Wuthering Heights (1954)

“How long do you intend to live after I’m gone?”

Luis Bunuel’s Wuthering Heights (Spanish title: Absimos de Pasion) is more or less faithful to the Emily Bronte novel–the setting of the story–however is Mexico. When the film begins, Eduardo (Ernesto Alonso) is adding to his extensive butterfly collection, while his wife, Catalina (Irasema Dilian) is out shooting. Eduardo’s sister, Isabel (Lilia Prado), finds both Catalina’s shooting of animals and Eduardo’s butterfly pinning quite revolting, and it’s clear there’s turbulence in the household before the explosive Alejandro (Jorge Mistral) arrives on the scene. Alejandro is Catalina’s foster brother (Heathcliff in the Bronte novel), and he returns after many years absence. Alejandro has taken up residence with Catalina’s debauched brother, Ricardo (Luis Aceves Castaneda), and Alejandro’s aim seems to be to make everyone around him as miserable as possible.

Alejandro’s return sets off a chain of tragic events. Eduardo is thrown into jealous, impotent fury, and Catalina is torn between her husband and Alejandro, the man she truly loves. Mistakenly believing that Alejandro’s passion can be diverted towards her, Isabel throws herself at Alejandro. There’s one scene involving a pig slaughter that segues into a passionate scene between Isabel and Alejandro. His amusement at her distress signifies his passion, and her inability to meet it.

Bunuel’s interpretation of the classic Gothic Bronte novel is fascinating and successful. Bunuel dispenses with the preliminaries of the Wuthering Heights story (Catherine and Heathcliff’s childhood) and plunges straight into the plot. Bunuel–a master of Insane Passion–weaves a story that is more passionate and brutal than the original. Alejandro is pure animal. His scenes involve breaking of furniture, windows, doors, and his arrival often coincides with a fierce storm. The role of the servants is to maintain law, order, and harmony, and they fail miserably on all points–falling back on religious superstition to ‘right’ the chaos. The film is in glorious black and white, and this suits the story, its religious imagery, and its savage landscapes to perfection. The language used is quite startling for a film made in the 50s, and this serves only to promote this version. The film is in Spanish with English subtitles in yellow. Bunuel fans or those who love the Bronte novel should seek out a copy of this far darker Latin interpretation of Wuthering Heights.

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Filed under Luis Bunuel, Period Piece

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