Luis Buñuel

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Lita Paniagua

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414

Patterned loosely after the picaro novels of the Spanish Renaissance, The Milky Way follows two itinerants, amiable, friendly fellows…. [They] participate as spectators in periodic episodes illustrating various formalistic squabbles on points of dogma in the life of the Church: the divinity of Christ, the Holy Trinity, the Immaculate Conception, the Eucharist, the Existence of Free Will, the Origin of Evil … the whole tiresome bag. It is doubtful if this line of silly medieval chatter could at best be forged into significant thought-provoking questions under the conditions of the world today. In the hands of an aging reforming zealot, they turn into instruments of torture more like the tools of the Inquisition he so roundly condemns. (pp. 28-9)

Characterizations are minimal and rudimentary. The two itinerants emerge less as personalities than as a Greek Chorus of bumblers who give neither emphasis nor counterpoint; the social Establishment types are shown largely as mild-mannered imbeciles; the clergy and the faithful—mostly petit-bourgeois mediocrities—seen consistently as stupid and insensitive, obscurantist and unimaginative, uncharitable when not outright cruel, pettifogging, superstitious, and corruptors of the young.

For symbolism-buffs, The Milky Way is at least a good sampler of Bunuel's established fetishistic motifs…. And there are also a few incursions into elementary surrealism, as when the father at the school picnic (the children reciting a piping chorus of anathemas) starts at a volley only imagined by the young clochard—who had just day-dreamed the firing-squad execution of a Pope; or as in a later scene at the Spanish Inn when an obtuse and sweating priest is shifted constantly back and forth from hallway to bedroom (through a locked door), all the while expounding on the virtues of chastity. Here at least is an echo of Bunuel's best anti-Church work of the past, when he acted like a wicked little boy beating an old witch with her own broom.

But the fine old touch of malice is largely missing here. The film has neither the power and depth of Viridiana, nor the ingenious gags and satiric directness of Simon of the Desert. Unlike these two films, his best in the genre, The Milky Way remains throughout, discursive, banal, pedestrian and uninspired. The problem is partly that the old soldier has fired all his rounds at the wrong target. (p. 30)

Oblivious to all of festering life about him, Bunuel struggles doggedly on,… preoccupied with doctrinal trivia…. (p. 31)

Lita Paniagua, "'The Milky Way'," in Film Society Review, Vol. 5, No. 6, February, 1970, pp. 28-31.

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Stanley Kauffmann