From July 20 to August 27, the Harvard Film Archive will be hosting “Buñuel in Mexico,” a series which explores the legendary Spanish director’s work in his adopted homeland, where he could be free of censorship from the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco, the radical Right, and the moralism of the Church.
If you don’t know Luis Buñuel immediately by name, you definitely know his legacy through the works of your favorite directors—if it weren’t for Buñuel, it’s hard to imagine there being a David Lynch, a Federico Fellini, or a David Cronenberg. He was making his most daring, controversial, and insightful work in the era of the Keystone Kops.
Or to put it another way: while American films were experiencing their “Golden Age”—a time when we were still debating how high a leading lady’s petticoat could go before it would be an absolute scandal—
Buñuel was cutting people’s eyes open and co-adapting Marquis de Sade stories with Salvador Dalí.
Throughout his globetrotting career, Buñuel was equal parts mad scientist, film historian, political subversive, surrealist, philosopher, and innovator. His career spanned six decades, three countries, silent and sound, black & white and color, satire, symbolism and surrealism.
Perhaps his most famous films are Belle du Jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and L’Age D’Or, and for good reason. While wildly different in structure, scope, and story, they all deal with some of Buñuel’s favorite topics: class, sex, perversion, absurdity, and alienation.
Because of these films, Buñuel is often misremembered as a great European director. Spain tries to claim him because of his origins, even though he renounced his citizenship. France tries to claim him because they gave him larger budgets and complete artistic freedom, but barely a third of his films can be called French. In fact, it was in Mexico that he made his home, spent 35 years as part of the film industry, cut his teeth, and matured as an artist.
This exhibition is about those formative years.
The series begins, appropriately enough, with Los Olvidados, which won Best Director at Cannes but nearly almost got him run out of Mexico for its depiction of impoverished children. While the cultural and religious critics hated it, its international recognition—and the Mexican film industry’s appreciation of that attention—eventually won out, and Buñuel stayed.
If all of this sounds a bit crazy and you’re looking for an entry point into this crazy person’s mind, check out The Young One, one of his two English-language films. Set on an island in the American South, it tells the story of a deeply bigoted and sexually frustrated prison guard who must now take care of a beautiful woman for reasons we won’t spoil here. Does he confront his inner character flaws, or does this situation just make them even worse?
Buñuel’s years in the US, his understanding of politics, sex, psychology, power struggles, and his ability to find the absurdities in any situation makes this a must-see.
Other highlights include the idealized fable Mexican Bus Ride, the uber-horny El, the unexpected adaptation of Wuthering Heights and the surprisingly reserved A Woman Without Love.
But any movie you manage to catch will be well worth it.
BUNUEL IN MEXICO
FRIDAY 7.20.12- MONDAY 8.27.12
THE HARVARD FILM ARCHIVE
THE CARPENTER CENTER
24 QUINCY ST.