Jesus (top) taunts Andara (Rita Macedo, below) in Bunuel's sly, wicked satire of Christianity, Nazarin (1959). It has been newly released by Elephant Films in France (no Anglophone versions yet) from a superb 2019 restoration done in Mexico.
As one does, every time a Bunuel is reissued in a new restoration, one must lament the absence of a really thorough retrospective of the master's work for the last thirty or forty years. Has anyone outside a dedicated band of cinephiles ever loved the Mexican period so much, even over and above his later arthouse triumphs with Carrière’s screenplays.
For my money El and Subida al Cielo are movies of the highest order, up with Ophuls, Ford and MIzoguchi. Subida al Cielo is the greatest work of art in any form on the total failure of civilization, played as a comedy. More "tradition de qualité" Spanish language pictures like Nazarin and even Viridiana seem far more canny with a nod to the snobberies of arthouse and festival audiences who think they're watching a great humanist. But the real fans amongst us know that's baloney. We're watching the masterworks of a great atheist and subversive, down to the last sigh of the ever masochistic Mathieu (Fernando Rey) in Bunuel's sublime Cet Obscur Objet du Désir just before he and his cohort are blown up by a totally, random, meaningless terrorist bomb at the end of his last movie.'
Nazarin (Francisco Rabal) himself is an extremely harsh character whose treatment of Andara for example is patriarchal and loathsome. He brings a lot of it upon himself. In some scenes he seems to be being driven by the “voices” heard by Andara. And Rabal, who was such a matinée idol, plays him very well indeed under Bunuel’s hand.
I would happily watch anytime Bunuel's Abismo de Pasion/Wuthering Heights or Susana or, every Xmas, Illusion Travels by Streetcar. His cheapest and most melodramatic Mexican movies are my ideal form of cinema. Head tossing, hair stroking, pouting, swaggering, line readings to the balcony, big big BIG, and always real, piercing and direct. Los Olvidados and Exterminating Angel are already admired and praised but Susana, El Bruto or Illusion are beyond criticism. Durgnat is the best writer (in English) on him.
Both Bunuel and Bresson, who became a non-believer some time after Curé de Campagne, understand the evil of religion, the sadness of the solitary priest who no longer has faith, and the ludicrousness of attempts to fight back against nature. I start to boil every time someone tries to claim Don Luis as “theist”. It’s like the fucking Vatican giving Pasolini a prize for “humanism, which simply inspired him to make Salo (fortunately).
Which reminds us that De Sade is one of Bunuel’s bibles. There’s a character here in Nazarin who at one point quotes extensively from Sade’s "Philosophe dans le Boudoir" and there’s also a scene in El when paranoid, enraged Arturo de Cordova takes to his bride with a needle and thread, straight from Sade's "120 Days" (I don’t remember which one).
Viva Don Luis!