Nazarin (1959)

“I might be a harlot but I have my dignity.”

Luis Bunuel’s film Nazarin examines the viability of Christianity in a world fraught with corruption. The film follows the trials and tribulations of the young, unworldly, Roman Catholic priest, Father Nazario (Francisco Rabal)–a decent good man who struggles to survive and keep his faith in spite of the adversities that reign upon him, and that are partially caused by his naivete. The film is set in a small Mexican town in the early 1900s. Father Nazario doesn’t bother to lock his door, and consequently, almost everything he owns is stolen. He is treated with contempt and disrespect by the prostitutes who ridicule him for entertainment, and by the beggars who come regularly for alms, but then complain about the pittance he gives them.

After a prostitute brawl in the streets ends in the almost fatal stabbing of the prostitute Andara (Rita Macedo), she begs for shelter inside Father Nazario’s rooms. He keeps her there while he decides exactly how to proceed, but this act of charity ends in disaster. Kicked out of his position, he takes to the road and eventually both Andara, and failed suicide Beatriz (Marga Lopez) become his traveling companions. The three travelers–Father Nazario, Beatriz and Andara form a peculiar trio (and the potential foundation for a cult). While there is nothing sexual in the relationship between Nazario and the two women, it doesn’t stop everyone else’s imagination from working overtime. Both women worship Nazario; Andara, unable to distinguish between supersition and religious faith mingles the two and concocts a bizarre worship of Nazario. Beatriz’s love for Pinto, the man who heartlessly dumped her seems to transfer to Father Nazario.

As Nazario and his two followers beg their way through the countryside, Father Nazario leaves nothing except disaster in his wake. This is not deliberate–but the consequence of his natural goodness. He would rather go hunger than contribute to any social injustice, and while his self-sacrifice should bear good results, his actions only bring chaos and social disorder. Ironically, while Nazario is the living embodiment of Christian precepts, he’s ultimately viewed as a danger to society. Nazarin is a very subtle film, and unfortunately Franco, who banned the film in Spain, certainly didn’t appreciate it. In Spanish with English subtitles.

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