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SPAIN: Luis Bunuel



The posting on shoes as a status symbol in Hispanic countries prompted Paul Simoo to think of the film "El" by Luis Buñuel. He explains: "It was made when Buñuel was in voluntary exile to Mexico during Franco's regime. Buñuel made his earliest and last films in French, he also directed a small number of Hollywood films in English. He made some awesome films in Mexico during his exile, including "El", "El Angel Exterminador", "Los Olvidados", "Death in the Garden", and "Abismos de Pasión". This last is a Mexican 'Wuthering Heights', if you can believe it. In English, "El" is often called "This Strange Passion".It is classic Buñuel, combining two of his regular themes, a mild foot fetish (also evident in "Diary of a Chambermaid',) and his loathing of the hypocrisy and vices of the bourgeoise and the Catholic clergy. The film begins with the wealthy man with the foot fetish going to church to wash the feet of the poor......Franco eventually persuaded Bunuel to return to Spain where he made "Tristana" and "Viridiana". The "Last Supper" parody of bums dining in the manor house enraged El Caudillo, and Buñuel packed his bags and made his last 3-4 major films in French! 'That Obscure Object of Desire' (with Catherine Deneuve) won an Oscar for best foreign film. Buñuel's autobiography "My Last Sigh", is a good read!"

RH: Friendly disagreement being of the essence of WAISdom, I am compelled to say that I do not share Paul's enthusiasm for Buñuel. I knew him in Madrid at the Residencia de Estudiantes, which marked the centennial of his birth in 1900 by establishing his official home page:

He, García Lorca and some others no longer lived at the Residencia when I was there, but they came and ate there. Buñuel and Dali, friends of Cocteau, viewed themselves as surrealists, and Buñuel wrote Surrealism at the Service of the Revolution. Intellectuals like Ortega y Gasset, Salvador de Madariaga and Gregorio Marañon defended the republic admirably, but García Lorca, Buñuel, and Dalí got the publicity. Politically, they were clowns like their friend Gómez de la Serna.. Buñuel was born in the small Aragonese town of Calanda and was educated by the Jesuits, who expelled him. I bet they had good reason to. In Madrid when I was there, the director of the French residence there, the Casa Velazquez was Maurice Legendre, who wrote a book on Las Hurdes, a very primitive region of Spain which the Republicans made the symbol of the backwardness for which allegedly the monarchy was responsible. Buñuel made a film of the book. I have the impression that the aim was to get political mileage out of the plight of these peasants. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Buñuel was sent to the Spanish Embassy in Paris as cultural attache, From there he came to America and for a while was employed at the Museum of Modern Art., He was forced to leave after the publication of The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí; I do not have the details. He wandered from Mexico to Spain to France and back to Mexico, where he became a Mexican citizen. After the Civil War he seems to have shown little interest in Spanish politics. Franco was eager to bring to Spain intellectuals who has lost their republican enthusiasm, among them Buñuel. Ramón Pérez de Ayala and Baroja. Buñuel was a very successful film maker, and I may be unjust to him. Having lived through that horrible period, I judge Spaniards by the sense of responsibility they showed.

Ronald Hilton - 10/2/02


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