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January 26, 2009

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bill

I've been catching up with Bunuel lately, and I hope it's okay if I diverge from the religious angle right off the bat, but one of the things I've been finding interesting about him is the way he flirts with genre. Godard and Truffaut and the like would mess around with crime films and SF films while actually pretty much MAKING crime and SF films, but some of the Bunuel films I've seen so far are films that could fall into one genre category or another if he'd decided to nudge them just a little bit more in that direction. I'm thinking specifically of "That Obscure Object of Desire" which, apart from everything else it's dealing with, comes awfully close to tipping into James M. Cain territory. Also, while it's been many years since I've seen "The Exterminating Angel", that one always struck me, story-wise, as being like an episode of "The Twilight Zone" without the clear moral punch-line (which I know is reductive of the film, but I'm just trying to mine this one area at the moment).

Did Bunuel ever directly tackle a genre story? I'm guessing not, but, as a genre-hound, I'm finding this thin branch of his work to be interesting.

Glenn Kenny

@bill—Most of the Mexican stuff contains strong genre elements, especially if you include romantic melodrama in your genre bag. But the sort of thing you're talking about is strongest in the likes of "El," a psychosexual thriller with strong intimations of Cain at his craziest, and "The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz," a black-comic portrait of a serial killer. Of course, these can hardly be said to be "straight" genre pieces...

Vadim

This is probably just my fault, but I found The Milky Way almost unwatchable, for the precise reason you mention: it's more Catholic than most Catholics themselves, to a point that goes beyond self-parody. I mean, I like Bernanos as much as the next guy, but jeez.

bill

Glenn, you've further peaked my interest, but, of course, neither of those films are available on Netflix. Would it be worth my money to go the foreign-region route?

Netflix does have "The Brute", though, which sounds interesting.

Vadim:

"it's more Catholic than most Catholics themselves, to a point that goes beyond self-parody."

I may only be a Catholic of the lapsed variety, though I'm not an atheist, but I think the "self-parody" was what he was going for.

Glenn Kenny

@bill—There's a not-bad Films-sans-Frontieres double feature of "Archibaldo" and "El" that is region free. Possibly out of print. But worth digging for.

@vadim: I admit, "Milky Way" is definitely the biggest "specialty" item in the whole Bunuel oeuvre. It's telling that he made it at a certain commercial peak, a career moment in which he could "get away" with such an indulgence. I still love it though, and I think it has moments that are laugh-out-loud funny even without context—the duel, the executions. But if you haven't seen "Simon," you're in for a treat; the esoteric references never threaten to gum up the comic invention and philosphical trenchancy. And Sylvia Pinal...

Dan

"The Milky Way" isn't my favorite Bunuel film ever made (although Bunuel is one of my favorite filmmakers), but it's definitely got some great moments, especially the bit in the limo and the sword-fight. Although I'm surprised nobody's brought up the equally pointed and brilliant "Viridiana" yet, although I suppose that deals more with applied religion instead of the philosophical implications of it. I've always liked how Bunuel tackles religion; even in something like "Way", he never lays it on quite as thick as other filmmakers dealing with the same subject.

@bill: "The Brute" is mostly interesting for seeing what Bunuel does with a very, VERY stock story. I barely got through it, to be honest.

In terms of Bunuel and genre, what's always stood out for me is his willingness to deploy genre tropes as needed, although I think "Object" is way too funny and far too interested in its overall message to be as close to Cain as some might like.

Although part of me likes to think of "The Phantom of Liberty" as a more artful "Kentucky Fried Movie."

Griff

Glenn, Bunuel's THE MILKY WAY was released in Europe in 1969; it was distributed in the United States in 1970.

Bruce Reid

"Sade and surrealism still had yet to exert their influence...."

I wouldn't write off Saragossa brothels so completely as that.

bill

"I've always liked how Bunuel tackles religion; even in something like "Way", he never lays it on quite as thick as other filmmakers dealing with the same subject"

No he doesn't, and I also like that about him. Seen from a certain angle, Viridiana would have been better off staying at the convent.

And I'm not saying "Object" is really all that close to Cain, just that, if nudged in the ribs a little bit, it could have toppled into that territory pretty quickly. Which isn't a criticism of what the film ultimately is, or of Cain. It's just an interesting tightrope walk.

"'The Brute' is mostly interesting for seeing what Bunuel does with a very, VERY stock story. I barely got through it, to be honest."

Oh well. I'll still check it out. Hopefully I'll disagree.

Brandon

One of my favorite Bunuel quotes (sorry I forget the context, but it's found somewhere in MY LAST SIGH):

"Sometimes you just have to say shit to science".

Marvelous.

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