Luis Bunuel: an anarchist surrealist looking for a homeland

Luis Bunuel was born in Calendar, a small town in Aragon, Spain on February 22, 1900. He was sent to study in a Jesuit college. In all likelihood, this experience made up of rigid rules and monotonous everyday life contributes to creating his profound aversion to Catholic institutions.

Luis Bunuel during his university period

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Finally moved to Madrid to study at the university, he has the opportunity to be free to know what interests him most: literature and philosophy. Among his friends from the university period are the poet Federico Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dalì , the surrealist painter with whom he will form a long association. The young Luis Bunuel reads and is passionate about Darwin, Sodom and Gomorrah, the apocryphal gospels, The Marquis de Sade, anarchy, Futurism and Symbolism.

But Spain is close to him and he moves to Paris, where he can immerse himself and make friends in the ferment of artistic movements. This is where he gets to know the cinema of Buster Keaton and Fritz Lang , and is an assistant to director Jean Epstein .

The Parisian period

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Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dalì

In Paris with Salvator Dalì he will write and produce in 1928 what is to be considered the first surrealist film: Un chien andalou . A revolutionary film that lashes out with violence against the clergy and bourgeois society with a series of dream images, symbols and free associations. The image of the razor cutting a woman’s pupil will remain forever engraved in the world cinematic imagination.

he Follows the film L’age d’or , where he tells of a strange relationship between Jesus Christ and the Marquis de Sade. Bunuel managed to get the film financed by two wealthy philanthropists and to a small extent by Salvador Dali. In L’age d’or he tells us about the man overwhelmed by passion and primordial instincts: scorpions, ancient Roman imperialism, fascism, quotations from Sodom and Gomorrah.

A powerful and subversive film that cannot go unnoticed and seems to have a destructive power. It destroys the relationships of those who produced it, the two philanthropists who end up arguing with each other and with the authors of the film. The cinema where it was shown was destroyed by a group of fascists. The age d’or is finally seized and prohibited by the commissioner. Only in the 1950s will it be possible to see the film again in cinemas.

Luis Bunuel in the United States

Luis Bunuel begins to move between the United States, Mexico and Spain, finding many obstacles due to his revolutionary and anticlerical spirit: bigoted and conformist people, who often hold positions of power, ready to be indignant and to fight against the content of his films. For example, he was fired from the New York Museum of Art because he was discovered atheist by the company executives through the biography that Salvador Dalì had written about him. He also tries to work as a voice actor in Los Angeles, without great continuity.

In Mexico

she She moves to Mexico where commercial clichés and stereotyped characters dominate the cinema. The country is dominated by a male-dominated and traditional vision and Bunuel is unable to express his authentic vision of the world in his works. In 1934 he will marry the French-born Mexican actress and gymnast Jeanne Rucar, with whom he will remain tied for 49 years, until her death. He is forced to make some film without thickness in order to survive. It will take him a few years to find his personal stylistic code, constantly moving between Mexico, Spain and France.

Finally he manages to create one of his masterpieces from the Mexican period The children of violence , inspired by Vittorio De Sica’s Sciuscià and Italian Neorealism. A film that seems to anticipate the style of Pierpaolo Pasolini and his “townspeople”. A story of suburban children marked by violence and the abandonment of every institution. For the church, the family and the state these young people simply do not exist and are doomed to death or condemnation.

A realistic drama with numerous dream ideas and surrealist visions, devoid of the director’s typical irony. An almost documentary style, in which Luis Bunuel makes us understand that surrealism could also be done in a different way, approaching the cinema of reality.

Mexico that tries to promote traditional values ​​in cinema with a backward mentality paradoxically seems to be fertile ground for Bunuel, who knows how to insinuate doubts about his true point of view in the stories. Even if the stories respect Mexican clichés, the characters and the vision of the world remain ambiguous, without drawing precise boundaries between good and evil, between tradition and anarchy.

Another of the best results is Susana, a film that tells the story of a girl who escaped from a reform school who puts a traditional family in crisis with her eroticism.

In The Daughter of Deception transforms the dramatic parable of a man who lost his daughter to a deception into a bizarre burlesque and surrealist gangster movie. A drama transformed into an entertaining anthropological analysis, an entomological vision of human behavior.

Luis Bunuel, now part of the Mexican film industry, makes some more personal and compelling films, but above all minor exotic comedies and films to make a living. The hidden masterpiece of this period is Ecstasy of a crime which is inspired by the thriller atmospheres of Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock, filtered through his very personal style.

Between France, Spain and Mexico

While various European directors return to Europe after the end of the Second World War, Bunuel continues his life as an exile due to Franco’s dictatorship in Spain. The most loved land remains France, but he also collaborates with Italian co-productions and actresses such as Lucia Bosè.

Perhaps the best film of the Mexican period is Nazarin from 1957, an absurd, blasphemous and irreverent tale inspired by the life of Jesus Christ. Back in Spain, which seems to be undergoing a liberal turn, he shoots Viridiana which is awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Film that attracts the ire of the high prelates of Rome on the Osservatore Romano who even sentenced him to one year in prison for the crime of blasphemy.

Unlike most directors who begin a downward creative path as they age, Bunuel seems to do exactly the opposite. In the last period of his life his artistic growth is continuous. From Viridiana onwards he will make all his masterpieces, one after the other.

The exterminating angel shot in Mexico, Diary of a waitress in France, Simon of the desert back in Mexico.

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Back in Paris, his spiritual homeland, he creates Belle de jour, with Catherine Deneuve, The Milky Way and Tristana. Then his most famous film The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie , awarded with the Oscar for best foreign film. This is followed by The Phantom of Liberty and  That Obscure Object of Desire, his latest film, the story of an old man’s fatal and perverse passion for a very younger.


A dozen masterpieces in a vast filmography built over more than 40 years of activity, shooting films in various parts of the world, constitute one of the most important film careers in the history of cinema, covered by a revolutionary spirit and a out of the ordinary stylistic research. Bunuel was not at all interested in commercial cinema, except when he was forced to do so. He has invested all his energies to create a unique and unmistakable style from the surrealist inspiration.

In 1981 he publishes his autobiography, “Dei Mine of my extreme sighs” published after his death in Mexico City on July 29, 1983.

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