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21 April 1964 (France)  »

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Un Cineaste De Notre Temps: Luis Bunuel (TV) {Edited Version} (Robert Valey, 1964) ***1/2

This is the fifth documentary I have watched whose subject is my all-time favorite film-maker, Luis Bunuel; it is also the earliest of them and quite possibly the most endearing. It mostly features the great Spaniard himself responding self-deprecatingly in heavily-accented but fluent French to the sometimes obtuse observations of a young interviewer; Bunuel was a notoriously no-nonsense interviewee who was diffident of the various interpretations critics were all too eager to put forward on his multi-layered films. The informal interview was conducted on the streets of Bunuel's adopted home of Mexico and, at one point, a two-shot of them is disturbed by the off-screen braying of a passing donkey, at which the director immediately quips, "You'd better insert a shot of the donkey here or else the audience will think we're making that noise!"

Another amusing element found in this piece is that occasionally Bunuel's modest replies are completely contradicted in the accompanying footage featuring his close friend (and eminent French film historian) Georges Sadoul. For example, the latter claims that Bunuel kept his French wife Jeanne hidden away whenever the Surrealists met at his house in the late 1920s or that the Spanish painter Goya is a clear influence on the director's visual style…but Bunuel will have none of that pigeon-holing! This documentary – included on the Criterion DVD of VIRIDIANA (1961) in a slightly abridged form which, I assume, jettisons the inclusion of scenes from Bunuel's films because of rights issues – is also significant for explaining the director's apparent "grouchiness" which stemmed from the fact that, as a direct result of his increasing deafness, he willfully withdrew from socializing. Furthermore, Bunuel's passion for guns (of which he owned 90 even though he loathed the killing of animals!) and gunpowder is briefly touched upon; Sadoul's anecdote of Bunuel's own preparation of a would-be harmless bullet intended for himself that subsequently exploded is the comic highlight of this priceless documentary which is accompanied on the soundtrack by the pounding Calandan Good Friday drumbeats that featured so hauntingly in L' AGE D' OR (1930).


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