The Spanish surrealist film‑maker Luis Buñuel said he made movies “to show that this is not the best of all possible worlds”.
He revolutionised cinema in the early 20th century. He became a Communist and broke with Salvador Dali, who he had worked with on his early masterpiece Un Chien Andalou .
In Spain he made Land Without Bread (1933), a parody of a documentary about peasants, and a Republican‑distributed documentary about the Civil War, España 1936.
His lifetime obsessions were peeling away the facade of the respectable and the clash between guilt and desire.
For decades he ruthlessly attacked the middle class he came from with dark piercing humour.
His anti-clericalism and exploration of passion made him controversial throughout his career.
He left Spain to escape fascism. But General Franco allowed him to return to a make a movie in 1961. Buñuel produced Viridiana, about a novice nun, which was immediately banned in Spain as blasphemous.
Buñuel said, “Sex without religion is like cooking an egg without salt. Sin gives more chances to desire.”
Unfortunately, exploring desire doesn’t mean Buñuel avoids sexism, despite some of his work tackling it.
In the 1950s and 1960s he made a series of movies in Mexico. Some are fantastic, such as Los Olvidadoes about brutality and misery among the homeless children of Mexico city.
Some are hack work—but they are the hack work of a genius.
Two of the latter have just been released on DVD—The Brute (El Bruto) and Susana.
The Brute (1953) is a tale of a landlord who wants to evict his tenants and hires a thug, Bruto, to scare them off. The tenants’ leader dies from the beating he receives.
Bruto misses all his chances. He takes too long to develop a conscience, he falls for the wrong woman—then finds the right woman too late. And these are the wife of the landlord and the daughter of the man he killed.
It is sort of a class struggle version of Rocky without the boxing or the happy ending.
Susana—The Devil and the Flesh (1951) is less interesting. At one level it is a routine melodrama, though Buñuel undercuts the genre, turning it into a critique of family values in a complacent society.
But even if you get the joke it doesn’t really work. “I feel I didn’t emphasise the irony enough,” he later admitted about the film.
Some of the Mexican movies haven’t aged well but, as Buñuel himself said, “Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.”