Close Up

1 - 27 February 2019: Close-Up on Luis Buñuel


From his beginnings as a godfather of filmic Surrealism to his remarkably fertile exile in Mexico to his late-career renaissance as a titan of international cinema, Spanish-born director Luis Buñuel’s richly varied body of work reveals a consummate film-poet whose films overflow with unforgettable, dreamlike images. Though he frequently courted controversy for his subversive teasing of religion and middle-class moral hypocrisy, at the heart of Buñuel’s cinema is a pure and unflagging sense of humanism.

Un chien andalou
Luis Buñuel & Salvador Dalí, 1928, 28 min

"The opening sequence of Buñuel’s first film contains one of the most indelible images, and most primal “cuts”, in film history – the chillingly tranquil slicing of an eyeball with a razor blade. From there, Buñuel and collaborator Salvador Dalí use a Surrealist version of narrative to thread together sequences involving a heterosexual couple, a disembodied hand and a rotting carcass inside a piano." – Harvard Film Archive

L'Age d'Or
Luis Buñuel, 1930, 63 min
French with English subtitles

"Realizing his goal of enraging fascists, Catholics, the bourgeoisie, and his general audience in this follow-up to Un Chien Andalou, Buñuel proved too radical this time for even Salvador Dalí, who quickly distanced himself from this explosive cinematic revolution. Slyly beginning as an innocuous documentary on scorpions, this surreal masterpiece evolves into a love story in which the lovers are routinely blocked from realizing their love by the complexes of society and their own psyches. Even more miraculous that it was one of the earliest sound films – and incidentally, the first to use interior dialogue – L’Age d’Or is a decadent, jarring Freudian dreamscape that has maintained its horror, eroticism and taboo – provoking on planes both conscious and subconscious." – Harvard Film Archive

The Exterminating Angel
Luis Buñuel, 1962, 94 min
Spanish with English subtitles

"Emerging at the dawn of his nouveau "French period," Buñuel’s extraordinary apparition embraces the theatrical ritual of his favorite social stage, the dinner party, to famously imprison a group of well-heeled guests without explanation at a sumptuous meal in a luminous Mexico City mansion. Trapped within their own nonsensical social structure "out of politeness," the guests realize they cannot escape their own soiree as ridiculous party banter, veiled insults and invented scandals give way to outrageous carnal depravity and animal ugliness. Buñuel elevates and abstracts political critique beyond simple satire – floating symbols like the recurrent sheep, the dream emblem par excellence. In the end the very fabric of time and space immobilizes Buñuel’s guests in discontinuity, repetition, and a confusion of reality and fantasy that draws a clear parallel to the film’s very own audience. Providing inspiration for Godard’s Weekend, The Exterminating Angel is a hysterical revolt against oppressive civilization and its willing victims." – Harvard Film Archive

Diary of a Chambermaid
Luis Buñuel, 1965, 101 min
French with English subtitles

"Set in the 1930s French countryside, the first of several films Buñuel co-wrote with Jean-Claude Carrière (who also plays a cleric in the film) is sardonically laced with absurd perversions of classism and fascism. The chambermaid of the title is the enigmatic Parisian Célestine who is besieged as soon as she steps off of the train by the frustrated desires and eccentric obsessions of the Montreils, a rural bourgeois clan at war with each other, the neighbors, and “foreigners” at large. When one of them commits a sordid crime, the avenging Célestine takes an unpredictable, mystifying path. Everywhere she goes, she cannot escape one of Buñuel’s famous fetish objects, the boot – titillating, incriminating, and ultimately pointing the way to a greater, darker march on the horizon." – Harvard Film Archive

Simon of the Desert
Luis Buñuel, 1965, 45 min
Spanish with English subtitles

"Perched atop a pillar in the middle of the desert in eternal penance for six years, six months, and six days, Simon – inspired by 5th century Saint Simeon Stylites – seeks spiritual purification through spectacular means. Reluctantly doling out occasional miracles, prophesies, and words of muttered wisdom to his fickle followers, Simon’s encounters elicit a string of blasphemous comedy routines occasionally anticipating those of Monty Python. His faith is ritually tested by the devil who reappears in various feminine incarnations all portrayed by the beguiling Silvia Pinal - accounting for most of the matter-of-fact surrealist moments that would become signature late Buñuel. With as ascetic an aesthetic as Simon’s, the last film Buñuel made while exiled in Mexico is a richly compact allegory. The cynical tone – balancing somewhere between mockery and sympathy – is consummated by a whirlwind ending which is as incredulously shocking as it is completely appropriate." – Harvard Film Archive

Belle de Jour
Luis Buñuel, 1967, 101 min
French with English subtitles

"Though the most popular of Buñuel’s films from his late French period, Belle de Jour may also be one of the most radical. The film is perhaps as duplicitous as its lovely protagonist Séverine. Appearing to lead a respectable existence with a successful, handsome husband, she behaves icily chaste with patient Pierre in the bedroom while secretly indulging in fetishistic daydreams. Caught between the gaze of saintly Pierre and that of lecherous men like his friend Husson, she begins to lead another life at a nearby brothel. Her sexual and emotional needs may be deeper, stranger and more complex than either man could ever allow in their rigidly circumscribed narratives. Or are they? Belle de Jour is a pristine psycho-cinematic puzzle – imparting to the viewers as much or as little profundity as they are willing to entertain." – Harvard Film Archive

The Milky Way
Luis Buñuel, 1969, 98 min
French with English subtitles

"On a pilgrimage of sorts, two tramps take a journey through time and space on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Often oblivious to the symbolism or significance of their bizarre encounters, these two everymen are unwitting travelers through Buñuel’s heretical history of Christianity where mystery, miracles, and visions proliferate. Jesus, the Holy Virgin, the Marquis de Sade, Death and bishops, nuns, priests, prostitutes, vagabonds, and 20th Century bourgeoisie debate all matter of Christian paradoxes – from the Holy Trinity to the Eucharist. Like the mad priest whose neuroses are triggered when he is contradicted, the scenarios petulantly illustrate the close-minded circular logic and ever-changing “absolute” truths of those who throughout civilization, have wielded great power over the fates of their followers. A non-linear manuscript of vivid tableaux and ingenious transitions, Buñuel leaves no theological stone unturned in this thorough upheaval of Christianity’s dark side." – Harvard Film Archive

Luis Buñuel, 1970, 95 min
Spanish with English subtitles

"After the death of her mother, the beautiful and impressionable Tristana is taken under the wing of Don Lope. An aging Don Juan with an outdated, hypocritical code of honor, he defiles Tristana’s body and her spirit – alternately treating her as his child or his lover, a lady or a servant. The selfish manipulations backfire in subversively subtle Buñuelian fashion – unnaturally transforming the young swan into a fickle monster of Don Lope’s own making. Mistreated and misshapen in one way or another, all characters in the film suffer under misuse of aristocratic power, as they play out Buñuel’s psychoanalysis of loathing and desire within the narrow, disorienting streets and faded palette of 1920’s Toledo – aging prematurely under corrupt conditions." – Harvard Film Archive

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie
Luis Buñuel, 1972, 102 min
French with English subtitles

"Buñuel’s most successful film, which won the 1972 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, once again places a group of bourgeois friends in dinner party purgatory. Continually interrupted from eating by strange events, the diners are perennially unsatisfied, yet driven to play out their polite social rituals nevertheless. Meanwhile, the elegant costumes, good manners, and meaningless small talk hides drug trafficking, affairs, political intrigue and vengeful murder. Absurd reminders of their hypocrisy and doom constantly resurface via apparitions, premonitions, dreams, and dreams within dreams, yet they never seem to “wake up.” No standard cinematic fare, the seamlessly surreal satire features a charming ensemble cast playing social actors who are doomed to play their parts ad infinitum." – Harvard Film Archive

Phantom of Liberty
Luis Buñuel, 1974, 104 min
French with English subtitles

""I’m sick of symmetry," states Monsieur Foucauld as he repositions his preserved spider above the mantel. Achieving total Buñuelian liberation from the despotic narrative form, this elegant labyrinth of contradictory, dream-like scenarios – each of which breaks-off and follows a different character – maintains a curious unity of its own. Never explicit or predictable in its sly comedy, Buñuel presents a deadpan inversion of normalcy that plays upon the tension between paradox, ambiguity and taboo: police searching for a missing girl that is not missing, modern guests seated at toilets around a table, a military roadblock due to a fox sighting. Upsetting and opening up expectation, the film resembles a conversation with a child; it is a playfully relentless reconsideration of our accepted existences where conclusion would suggest not liberty, but death." – Harvard Film Archive

That Obscure Object of Desire
Luis Buñuel, 1977, 102 min
French with English subtitles

Buñuel’s final film explodes with eroticism, bringing full circle the director’s lifelong preoccupation with the darker side of desire. Buñuel regular Fernando Rey plays Mathieu, an urbane widower, tortured by his lust for the elusive Conchita. With subversive flare, Buñuel uses two different actresses in the lead – Carole Bouquet, a sophisticated French beauty, and Angela Molina, a Spanish coquette. Drawn from Pierre Louÿs’s 1898 novel, La Femme et le Pantin, That Obscure Object of Desire is a dizzying game of sexual politics punctuated by a terror that harkens back to Buñuel’s brilliant surrealistic beginnings.

Two or Three Things I Know About Her
Jean-Luc Godard, 1967, 87 min
French with English subtitles

"The “her” of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 masterpiece […] is Paris in the throes of redevelopment. It’s also a Parisian housewife (the glowing Marina Vlady) who moonlights – or, rather, daylights – as a prostitute in order to afford the luxuries of urban living. Less a narrative than a succession of loosely interconnected scenes laced with Godard’s whispered musings on everything from the origins of language to the war in Vietnam, 2 or 3 Things finds one of cinema’s greatest innovators at the height of his playfulness, quoting his earlier films, making astringent observations about the individual’s relationship to the city and flooding the screen with candy-colored wide-screen compositions worthy of a Hollywood musical. To quote the film: "Living in society today is like living in a vast comic strip."" – Film Society of Lincoln Center






Diary of a Chambermaid Friday 22.02.19 8:15 pm Book
The Phantom of Liberty Saturday 23.02.19 8:00 pm Book
Un chien Andalou + L'age d'or Monday 25.02.19 8:15 pm Book
That Obscure Object of Desire Wednesday 27.02.19 8:15 pm Book