Luis Buñuel

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Freddy Buache

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It would be a mistake to try to work out a systematic exegesis of Un Chien Andalou, because it is impossible to translate, completely into ordinary language the complexity of this poem—for poem it is, and not a fable or an allegory. On the other hand, it would be equally wrong to see it as the convulsions of two wild imaginations [Buñuel and Salvador Dali]. It is open to logical interpretation, and its theme is an extremely serious one. It describes the dramatic collision between desire and the object of that desire in a context that literally bristles with pitfalls. (p. 10)

Man is not free to approach the woman he loves. He carries around with him a whole ramshackle load of moral and social circumstances. He is hamstrung, he is weighed down like a slave who has to carry (to use Buñuel's imagery) pumpkins, priests, and a piano laden with rotting donkeys. Nothing could be more grotesquely further from the truth than to say that the pumpkins evoke cooking and domestic chores, that the smiling priests represent the way the Church tries to trammel love, that the piano is a symbol of bourgeois life, and that the corpses of animals are reminders of the putrefaction that awaits us from the moment we are born and overtakes us when we die. On the other hand, it does not seem to me to be farfetched to interpret the allusive truth of this sequence as a dynamic symbol that reflects everything which a man must take a grip on if he is to approach the woman he desires. She appears to him as something multiple, as a kind of quarry, an enemy, a beautiful animal with mother-of-pearl flesh, a living statue. (pp. 12-13)

L'Age d'Or resorts to the simplest kind of surrealist action—direct insults and a punch in the face…. The intertitles that occasionally appear during [the first] part of the film take on, as a result, a very particular meaning (one that goes to explain the tremendous power of Buñuel's art): they create an alienation effect whereby the world and our society are subjected to the impassive examination of an experimenter who apparently knows nothing of them. (p. 14)

But Buñuel's impassivity is feigned: it conceals a burning passion that transforms itself into a diamond or into phosphorus in order better to scratch or to burn everything it touches. L'Age d'Or is the most exhaustive catalogue of oppressions ever compiled for the screen. But it is not just a statistical record that can safely be stowed away in some archive, there to enrich the wizened heritage of western culture. This "pavilion of bloody meat" is a quivering, seething, consuming indictment that calls for rebellion and revolution, while at the same time advocating a liberated, totally unrestricted kind of mad love, or amour fou. (p. 15)

No other film has ever deciphered the structures of a society better than L'Age d'Or; the society in question is our own, even though it may give the false impression of having evolved since 1930. It still camouflages its criminal hypocrisy behind starched dickeys, uniforms and cassocks, behind slogans about the wisdom of the nations of the world and the twin myths of human nature and original sin, and behind Christian morality in general (as interpreted historically—and most ingeniously—by those in power in a bourgeois, capitalist society). Buñuel demonstrates how love is able to destroy established order, and why it is vital for it to do so if there is to be any hope of founding a form of humanism that is truly the measure of man and is stripped clean of idealistic mumbo-jumbo and fallacious freedom. (p. 24)

There is not the slightest trace of a hiatus between L'Age d'Or and Las Hurdes. Buñuel unceremoniously plunges us "into the icy waters of selfish motivations." (p. 30)

A little boy writes "respect your neighbour's property" on the blackboard in a schoolroom where on one of the walls an engraving has been pinned which shows a bewigged and powdered noblewoman dressed in Eighteenth century clothes—a dramatic confrontation of the two faces of...

(The entire section is 2,395 words.)