Luis Buñuel

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Raymond Durgnat

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If the inexplicable abounds in Buñuel's work, it is so that his moral arguments are constantly related to the inner world of desires and feelings, related in a way which asserts their irrational existence as categorical imperatives of man's nature. Buñuel is a moralist, but also protests against the rationalist, as well as puritan, attempt to apply moral standards to every impulse and feeling of man.

In his detachment from his own lyricism, Buñuel is more Brechtian than Brecht. He has no need of alienation effects, which in practice delight us aesthetically, thus de-alienating themselves. In his theories, Brecht was a rhetorician, and he pays the price for it. Buñuel needs no alienation effects, because the complexity of his characters and of their predicaments, and the sardonic restraint of his style, force the spectator to careful moral judgements at every turn. (p. 16)

The lack of sympathy for Buñuel's characters, in their absurdity, is often the spectator's response, not the director's. For example many critics thought of Don Jaime (Viridiana's uncle) simply as a morbid fetishist. Buñuel, pointed out that whatever his faults might be, there was a great deal of kindness and nobility in his attitudes. Once one refrains from, in effect, destroying Don Jaime by ridicule, his story takes on a more deeply tragic tone without so immersing the spectator in the tragic that he can't see the tragically derisive too. (pp. 16-17)

Buñuel's films are profoundly dialectical in that every character, every event, is not an assertion of any one point, but is a synthesis between opposing polarities…. Excessive simple-mindedness prevails if the spectator feels that because Don Jaime is ridiculous, he isn't tragic, or that, conversely, because the hero of El finishes in a tragic predicament, he isn't also funny. The play of contradictions in Buñuel's work is extremely sharp.

Aristotelian logic also underlies the common distortion of works of art by the attribution of excessively cut-and-dried symbolic meanings, although artists work by conglomerates of associations. Nowhere is this associative quality more apparent than in the Buñuelian motif of insects. (p. 17)

Buñuel's own remarks on his 'entomological' interest in people strengthens one's impression that Buñuel characters who have lost their biological integrity as a result of tabus, repressions, and so on, to become mere units in the social ant-heap, often take on insect-like movements. The insect world is a metaphor for all that is tragically derisory in alienated man…. Buñuel's motifs are … occasions for dissonances, contradictions, ambivalences, for a radically non-hierarchical view of the universe.

This sense of life's disorder explains, too, why Buñuel's films are often visually messy. His characters' rooms or surroundings are often littered with objects: tools, stores, objects of every kind. Formal pleasure is degraded by the impurity of things. The world around is non-symbolic; it is just what it is, a disorder from which man selects what he needs to live with, and whose selected objects also lie around in something of a mess. (p. 18)

So marked is Buñuel's lyrical reticence, and so often does his lyricism run at...

(The entire section is 782 words.)