Luis Buñuel

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Don Willis

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The archetypal heroes of the comic, or serio-comic, films of Luis Buñuel such as El (1952), Nazarin (1958) and Simon of the Desert (1965) are pure, in either sense of the word: innocent, simple, homogeneous. They haven't a trace of deceit or hypocrisy and they aren't self-questioning or self-aware. Buñuel doesn't make Nazarin and Simon contradict their moral and religious principles. Instead, he makes them push these to their logical, absurd extreme. Yet the films reveal a dichotomy: the absoluteness of Nazarin, Simon and Francisco, which is their primary strength, is at the same time, in context, their primary weakness, their comic flaw. Buñuel puts his heroes in a multiple perspective which, in effect, defines character as primarily a matter of point of view…. The character Francisco [in El] is seen to be at once cruel, in his wife's eyes, godlike, in his own eyes, and pathetically comic, in Buñuel's. He is, in effect, a synthesis of perceptions….

Nazarin too is an elemental Buñuel character. A priest in Mexico at the turn of the century, he leads an exemplary, modest, Christ-like existence, despite clerical (and anticlerical) pressure. His example, however, is lost on his era's violent society. Although he believes that, living in it, he is a part of it, Buñuel shows that he's apart from it….

Nazarin is mild, likeable, unprepossessing, and has a slight self-consciousness of movement that seems to come from self-effacement. But his subdued and matter-of-fact manner, although it effectively stifles self-importance or self-righteousness, also unfortunately stifles in him the possibility of spontaneity or responsiveness to others. But can he be blamed too badly if, while he's reinforcing the base of his character at one point, it's eroding at another? Nazarin seems to have a natural goodness of spirit which makes him somehow appealing even at his most didactic—perhaps especially then, when one can see a possibility of internal contradiction. (p. 5)

If his spirituality constitutes one form of ignorance, his world's earthiness constitutes another. The exaggeration of both 'true' Christian and heathen/'false' Christian gives the film perfect comic symmetry.

The unpriestliness of other priests in Nazarin is played off against Nazarin's strict constructionism, which in turn is played off against peasant superstition/religion. All ground is quicksand….

To Nazarin 'nature' means 'God'; but 'nature', in the film's context, means 'detachment'….

Nazarin's own lack of ego allows him to reduce everyone and everything else to the same level of importance, or unimportance. His principled concern for all merges imperceptibly into unprincipled indifference. Nazarin is genuinely selfless, but equally to the point is that...

(The entire section is 655 words.)