[The disturbing, overwhelming final episode of Nazarin] is in the great tradition of Luis Buñuel, who once said that his aim in making films was to convince people that they don't live in the best of all possible worlds. (And, in parenthesis, that there's no sign of the world getting much better.) He has never dramatized this belief so powerfully, and with such immense sadness, as in the whole of Nazarin. (p. 30)
Nazarin loses Christ and finds man. Like Dostoevsky's Prince Muishkin, or his Alyosha ("I am a monk who doesn't believe in God"), he finds him among the derelict, the criminal, and the mad. By implication Buñuel is saying—as he has always said—that this is the way society drives the individual. In all of Buñuel's important work you can find this rich implacable hatred of society—church, conservative governments, bureaucracy, militarism, the bourgeoisie—displayed with a sometimes paranoiac fury. His protagonists seem to snatch their moments of pleasure (usually erotic) in the teeth of official disapproval or hostility…. In the end, Buñuel suggests that society is only a legalized mob; beneath the institutional surface lies prejudice and cruelty…. [In] Nazarin society attacks an innocent, a Fool, because he is just that.
Yet Nazarin, at the end of the film, is no Francisco at the end of El, crazily zigzagging across the courtyard of the monastery in which he thinks he's found refuge…. Unlike [Francisco], he finds a reality with which to replace an illusion, and the film itself goes beyond protest to reach affirmation. (pp. 30-1)
[The] result has all the impact of an absolute masterpiece, a work of beautiful, explosive force and strangeness. (p. 31)
Gavin Lambert, "Film Reviews: 'Nazarin'," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1960 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XIII, No. 3, Spring, 1960, pp. 30-1.