Surrealism is born out of despair; its only power is to hasten the general cataclysm by its own prophetic chaos. Max Ernst said of it, "In turning topsy-turvy the appearances and relationships of reality, surrealism has been able, with a smile on its lips, to hasten the general crisis of consciousness which must perforce take place in our time."
No other work of the period expressed this so completely as L'Age d'Or. All civilisation is oppression, suffering, frustration; above, the cynical emptiness and callous show of the rich; below, the misery, hunger and incipient revolution of the poor; individuals are ridden with inhibition, anxiety and guilt; beauty is, like Hans Schwitters' haphazard, delicate collages of tram tickets and paper money, the momentary chance of an afternoon's boredom—clouds pass in the mirror as the girl, restless and lonely, waits for Modot's arrival. Bunuel has taken a traditional romantic theme, love thwarted by circumstance, and seen it with "un œil à l'état sauvage", stripped of any sentimental associations; love is a fierce lust with clumsy embraces and frustrated satisfaction. The honesty of his attitude is explosive and cauterising.
Yet it is not despair that finally pervades the film but a savage glee, almost optimistic in destruction. (pp. 125-26)
[Though] the props are still surrealist—the man with "patches" of living flies, the cow on the bed—and the general form loose and episodic, there are indications that Bunuel had exhausted the surrealist approach and had already begun to shape events into drama. Surrealism had become a technique for exposing and analysing reality rather than a means of creating an independent world of fantasy….
[Bunuel records the story of Land Without Bread, or Las Hurdes,] with a flatness and lack of comment that make it the more alarming. No moral is drawn, no response instructed, no easy attitude given. Bunuel is content, as was Goya in Los Desastres de la Guerra, to let the naked record speak...
(The entire section is 849 words.)