A small town by the shore of a deep, dark river is ruled by death. Its people live by a code of honor that encourages them to take revenge for any form of insult, no matter how insignificant. A seemingly never ending blood feud ravages the town, as the men, one by one, kill each other proudly, embracing their acts of murder with a sense of mission. Vengeance is considered not so much a crime as an act of courage. However, if a murderer manages to escape without being killed in return, he's banished from the town and left with no option but to cross the river and to live on the desolate, opposite shore. The dead are also taken across the river, inside their coffin, and buried in a distant cemetery. Few are those who oppose this violent way of life and little is what they can do about it. Gerardo, a young man of modern thought who studied medicine in the nearest big city, must return to his hometown and try to put an end to this delirious, anachronistic, macho gun culture.
The story and the dialogues are great, and so is the acting! Like in much of Buñuel's other work, a terrible, dreamlike beauty emerges as man's passions and ignorant values devour virtue. In this case, sin appears not so much in the form of lust but of a ferocious sense of vanity (disguised as "honor").
Though quite surreal in essence, the film feels more mainstream than the director's work from later decades. The humor here, though clearly present in the absurdity of the situation, is relatively restrained, and the music is at times a little bit campy. The story itself is linear and fairly straight-forward. The ending is perhaps the only small disappointment, not so much because it's so atypical for a Buñuel film, but because it's so sudden.
The black and white photography is very decent, although the image quality of the DVD that I watched was a little bit deteriorated. It would be a real treat to watch an enhanced version.
I hardly doubt that anyone considers this one of Buñuel's unique masterpieces, but it's still a great, extremely enjoyable film with a strong message and, personally, I highly recommend watching it.
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