Thank God, always an atheist

This program brings us not just the quintessential Buńuel but also presents lesser known jewels from the author’s earlier Mexican phase such as To se zove zora and Djevojke in which he cruelly plays with sexual and racist motives

Seeing De Oliveira’s film Belle tojours at last year’s Mostra in Venice was very emotional. At the screening of this unexpected sequel to Buńuel’s Belle de jour the audience first applauded the author’s age and afterwards the film itself. On the screen Buńuel’s Severine was replaced by Bulle Ogier, while Deneuve sat in the audience. In De Oliveira’s film, the aged Severine tries to find out what Husson (Michel Piccoli again!) told her former husband. And even though many years have passed since their last meeting they still reject each other, physically and spiritually.

Since Buńuel’s sons have never been too supportive of the “museum idolatry” with which some critics and filmmakers approached their father’s person and work, especially at the time of the author’s death anniversary, there is no doubt that they would have liked De Oliveira’s bizarre homage. It seems that even Buńuel himself would like Belle toujours because his work remained “forever vaulted with the double arch of rebellion and beauty” as the great Octavio Paz has put it. The rebellion began when Buńuel joined the group „La Generacion del 27”, (which was in 1927 what Movida was in the early 1980s), and he very openly made negative, deprecatory comments about the homosexual orientation of another group member, Federico Garcia Lorca. However, this should not be a reason for gay activists to crucify Buńuel. He was disgusted with sex in general. Film critic Ed Gonzalez called him a “spiritual fetishist” because Buńuel was equally scared by Eros and fascinated by Thanatos. Such an approach stems from Buńuel’s neurotic catholic childhood in a bourgeois family. He was ironical about this himself and often repeated this famous phrase “I am still an atheist, thank God!” The paradox inherent in this phrase remains the key to understanding Buńuel’s work. While Movida crashed and burned through Madrid, Buńuel’s The Golden Age, described as a “sixty-minute coitus interruptus about Eros and civilization”, still has not managed to rid itself of charges of blasphemy.

Regarding “beauty”, names such as Viridiana, Tristana, Evie and Severine speak more than words, even though these women are treated as sensual projections of male lust. It is not surprising that Henry Miller described Buńuel as an “entomologist” who researches the bloody machinery of sex and power. But where An Andalusian Dog was focused on the visual, The Golden Age questions the power of film sound. Cocteau described the first film as a “tragic gag” and the other can be characterized as a “sound gag”. This program brings us not just the quintessential Buńuel, when he and the screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere additionally radicalize the treatment of sexual perversions (The Diary of a Chambermaid, Belle de jour, That Obscure Object of Desire), but also presents lesser known jewels from the author’s earlier Mexican phase such as That Is the Dawn and The Young One in which he cruelly plays with sexual and racist motives.

In The Fantastic in Spanish Films program we met Buńuel as a teacher and inspiration to a whole generation of filmmakers unified under the name Cine Fantastico, who are referred to as “Buńuel-like”, an expression that, just like “Fellini-like” has been used too often -- even misused. In this program the author’s work is presented in a much broader, all-encompassing context. Only now can we understand why his numerous imitators were possessed by the author’s anti-form, twisted sense of humor, eternal irrationality and fetishism for orthopedic prosthetics. That is why in a cynical game of Buńuel associations Hitchcock could only ecstatically scream: “That leg! That leg!” (Dragan Rubeša)