Category Archives: Luis Bunuel

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Luis Bunuel, Period Piece

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Luis Bunuel

A Woman Without Love (1952)

“Since we got married, I’ve had to give up all my pleasures, all my desires, all my opinions.”

Rosario (Rosario Granados) is married to the much older Don Carlos Montero (Julio Villarreal). It’s not a love match, but a marriage brought on by the poverty of Rosario’s family. Rosario and Don Carlos have a child together–Carlitos–and they run an antiques business where Carlos treats Rosario more like a disappointing servant than a wife. One day, the Monteros befriend a young, single engineer, Julio Mistral (Tito Junco), and he shows Rosario attention and kindness. At first, Rosario struggles against her need for love, but then she begins a passionate affair with Julio. Julio wants Rosario to take her child, leave her husband and run off to Brazil with him. Rosario makes the heart-wrenching choice to remain in her loveless, unpleasant marriage.

Twenty-five years later, the Montero family receives news that Julio Mistral died in Brazil leaving behind a fortune. Julio willed this fortune to Rosario’s second son, Miguel (Cordero Loya) who was born after he left. While the males in Montero family celebrate, Rosario is devastated by the news that Julio is dead.

The inheritance leads to a terrible split between the brothers–both now doctors. Carlitos has ambitious plans for research, but he lacks the necessary funds. Meanwhile, Miguel has barely passed his medical exams, and now he’s showered with unexpected wealth. Even though Miguel wants to go into practice with his brother, Carlitos is consumed with envy at Miguel’s good fortune. Soon rumours and speculation about the reason behind the inheritance reach the disgruntled older brother, and the division in the family grows.

Loosely based on the Guy de Maupassant novel, Pierre et Jean (so loosely–you’ll hardly recognize it), the film explores the themes of hypocrisy and greed. Carlitos takes the high moral ground, but in reality base emotions control his mind and heart. While the film is well acted, the abrupt simplicity of the ending denies the darker depths of the human soul. Bunuel fans will want to seek out this early film–it’s a delight to watch. A Woman Without Love is a black and white film–in Spanish with English subtitles.

Leave a comment

Filed under Luis Bunuel