Luis Buñuel

It might seem like nothing is sacred to Luis Bunuel, whose satire leaves nothing untouched, but behind his scathing assaults on politics and society, the bourgeoisie and the church, the rich and the poor, is a love of his characters in spite of (or perhaps because of) their barely concealed hypocrisies and neuroses.

Luis Bunuel was born in 1900 in Calanda, Spain, the son of a wealthy hardware merchant and his aristocratic wife and the eldest of eight children, and educated in religious schools until the age of fifteen, when he began to question his faith. To escape his rigid environment, he went to university in Madrid, where he joined a circle of writers and artists (including Federico Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dali) who influenced him to switch from science to the arts.

A movie fan from an early age, he immersed himself in the cinema after his mother arranged for him to become the secretary to a Spanish diplomat in Paris. He attended avant-garde filmmaker Jean Epstein's film school and worked on a few films (including Epstein’s THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER) before he made his first production. He created the surrealist landmark UN CHIEN ANDALOU (1929) in collaboration with Dali, but they split during their second film, the controversial L'AGE D'OR (1930). After a brief stint in Hollywood and difficulties with his third film, the documentary LAND WITHOUT BREAD (1933), the filmmaker spent the next decade dubbing and subtitling films in Spain and the United States. Bunuel relocated to Mexico in the mid-1940s and he immediately began working in the film industry, directing GRAN CASINO (1946) shortly after he arrived. Though he made mostly commercial comedies and melodramas in this period, Bunuel brought political overtones and a sense of surrealism to many of his assignments, such as WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1954) and the France/Mexico co-production DEATH IN THE GARDEN (1956), and was able to direct more personal productions between his commercial projects, in particular LOS OLVIDADOS (1950), a study of poverty influenced by Italian neorealist films and sprinkled with surrealistic moments.

He returned to Spain in 1960 for the controversial VIRIDIANA, which was immediately banned in Spain and denounced by the Vatican. After making THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962) in Mexico, Bunuel moved to France where he remained for the rest of his career. At more than sixty years old and at the height of his critical acclaim, he returned to the freedom and preoccupations of his earliest films: satirizing the church and the bourgeoisie, exploring sexual desire and violent behavior (often together), puncturing social conventions and turning cultural stereotypes on end. His narratives are witty and unpredictable but his visual style is surprisingly simple and direct, full of long takes and moving cameras focused on the characters and the action. His final films, from DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID (1964) to THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE (1977), were almost without exception greeted with critical acclaim and he attracted the best actors within France. After retiring from filmmaking three times, Bunuel died in 1983.
- Sean Axmaker


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