Buñuel — Prophet of the ”Phantasm of the Real”
Accompanying the Programme ”The Fantastic in Spanish Cinematography”, Film Programmes, November 27th — 30th 2006
The essay studies Luis Buñuel’s films, starting with the manifesto on film surrealism Un chien andalou (1928). Primarily structured by the logic of dreams, deeply permeated with Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, Un chien andalou is an artistic document of its time par excellence.
L’ Âge d’ Or (1930), which is an uncompromising and unsparing criticism of the bourgeois society and the Church, is completely different from the shocking poetic quality of the first film. In a way, it is more a signum of the Breton break with surrealism and transition into an open Marxist analysis of sociability. Simón del desierto (1965) was made as some kind of an interlude between the most creative period of the Mexican director’s career and his final transition into French cinematography. In the thematic series of re-examining the relation between authentic Christian martyrs and the Church as an institution Simón del desierto marks the dividing line between Nazarín (1958) and Viridiana (1961) on the one side and La Voie lacteé (1969) on the other. Viridiana is certainly one of Buñuel’s best films. This comeback to Spanish cinematography also analyses the conflict between the real and the fantastic. The pure and humble and, at the same time, stealthily sensual protagonist Viridiana, played by Silvia Pinal, is torn between the idealized commitment to God and the real, palpable evilness of the people around her. The convincing analysis of all structures of an individual’s subconsciousness from pride to humiliation is what this film captures with. The final sequence, which takes place in the course of a card-game, is Buñuel’s merciless comment on the twisted, humiliating fall of his protagonist per astra ad aspera.
El ángel exterminador (1962) mixes up two themes of Buñuel’s work. On the one hand, there are the repeatedly surreal rituals of well-off bourgeois families from the upper class, whereas, on the other hand, there is the relation to the institutional role of the Church in society. This film marks the introduction into Buñuel’s logic of the absurd that the author develops in the final phase of his work. In all of his work, from Un chien andalou to the last film Cet obscur objet du désir, the logic of dreams dominates. Buñuel is not a fantasist. What determines the great Spanish cineaste is rather the phantasmatic, what rules his work is more the subconscious than the fantastic? His subject-matter is rather the phantasmatically real than the imaginary supernatural. With the interfusion of this kind of the real and the imaginary, Buñuel establishes his symbolic, that is, his artistic. Therefore he is not a direct forerunner of the Spanish cine fantastico but he is a surrealist who never crosses the ”phantasm of reality”.