|Born||Luis Buñuel Portolés
22 February 1900
Calanda, Teruel, Aragón, Spain
|Died||29 July 1983 (aged 83)
Mexico City, Mexico
|Spouse(s)||Jeanne Buñuel (1925-his death)|
Luis Buñuel Portolés (Spanish pronunciation: [lwis buˈɲwel]; 22 February 1900 – 29 July 1983) was a Spanish-born filmmaker who acquired Mexican citizenship and worked in Mexico, France, and also in his native Spain and the United States. He is considered one of finest directors in the history of cinema.
Buñuel was born in Calanda, province of Teruel in Aragon, Spain. His parents were Leonardo Buñuel and María Portolés; he had two brothers, Alfonso and Leonardo, and four sisters, Alicia, Concepción, Margarita and María. He married Jeanne Rucar in 1934 and they remained married throughout his life. His sons are Rafael and the director Juan Luis; Diego Buñuel, filmmaker and host of the National Geographic Channel's Don't Tell My Mother series, is his grandson.
Buñuel had a strict Jesuit education at the Colegio del Salvador in Zaragoza from which he was expelled. Later he went to university in Madrid. While studying at the University of Madrid (current-day Universidad Complutense de Madrid) he became a very close friend of painter Salvador Dalí and poet Federico García Lorca, among other important Spanish artists living in the Residencia de Estudiantes. Buñuel first studied the natural sciences and agronomy, then engineering, but later switched to philosophy. The 2009 biopic Little Ashes gives an account of the relationship of Dalí, Lorca, and Buñuel at this time.
In 1925, he moved to Paris where he began work as a secretary in an organization called the International Society of Intellectual Cooperation. He later found work in France as a director's assistant to Jean Epstein on Mauprat (1926), Mario Nalpas on La Sirène des Tropiques (1927) starring Josephine Baker, and Epstein on his adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's La chute de la maison Usher (1928). He then co-wrote and directed a 16-minute short film Un chien andalou (1929) with Dalí. This film, featuring a series of startling and sometimes horrifying images of Freudian nature (such as what appears to be the slow slicing of a woman's eyeball with a razor blade) was enthusiastically received by French surrealists of the time, and continues to be shown regularly in film societies to this day.
He followed this film with L'Âge d'or (1930), partly based on the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom. The film was begun as a second collaboration with Dalí but became Buñuel's solo project after a falling-out they had before filming began. During this film he worked around his technical ignorance by filming mostly in sequence and using nearly every foot of film that he shot. L'Âge d'or was read to be an attack on Catholicism, and thus, precipitated an even larger scandal than Un chien andalou. The right-wing press criticized the film and the police placed a ban on it that lasted 50 years.
Following L'Âge d'or, Buñuel returned to Spain and directed Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan (Land Without Bread, 1933), a documentary on peasant life. This was a convulsive period which led, in 1936, to the Spanish Civil War. The times were changing quickly and Buñuel could see that someone with his political and artistic sensibilities would have no place in a fascist Spain. He co-wrote and produced a documentary short about the changing political climes in Spain España 1936.
In exile after the Spanish Civil War, Buñuel settled in Hollywood to capitalize on the short-lived fad of producing foreign-language versions of American films for sales abroad. After Buñuel worked on a few Spanish-language remakes, the industry eventually turned to the dubbing of dialogue. He then left Hollywood for New York, getting a job at the Museum of Modern Art from Iris Barry, where he put together compilation films, and edited a shorter version of Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda film glorifying Hitler, Triumph of the Will (1934).
In his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí (1942), Dalí suggested that he had split with Buñuel because the latter was a Communist and an atheist. Buñuel was fired (or resigned) from MOMA, supposedly after Cardinal Spellman of New York went to see Iris Barry, head of the film department at MOMA. Buñuel then went back to Hollywood where he worked in the dubbing department of Warner Brothers from 1942 to 1946.
In 1972, Buñuel, along with his screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière and producer Serge Silberman, was invited by George Cukor to his house. This gathering was particularly memorable and other invitees included Alfred Hitchcock, Rouben Mamoulian, Robert Mulligan, George Stevens, Billy Wilder, Robert Wise and William Wyler.
Buñuel arrived in Mexico in 1946 and acquired Mexican citizenship in 1949; he relinquished his Spanish passport as it was not possible to have dual citizenship then. The first film he directed there was Gran Casino (1946), produced by Oscar Dancigers. Buñuel found the plot boring and it was not hugely successful. He later again collaborated with Dancigers in creating El Gran Calavera (1949), a successful film starring Fernando Soler. As Buñuel himself has stated, he learned the techniques of directing and editing while shooting El Gran Calavera. Its success at the box office encouraged Dancigers to accept the production of a more ambitious film for which Buñuel, apart from writing the script, had complete freedom to direct. The result was his critically acclaimed Los Olvidados (1950), which was recently considered by UNESCO as part of the world's cultural heritage. Los Olvidados (and its triumph at Cannes) made Buñuel an instant world celebrity and the most important Spanish-speaking film director in the world.
Buñuel remained in Mexico for the rest of his life, although he spent periods of time filming in France. In Mexico, he filmed 20 films, including:
After the golden age of the Mexican film industry ended, Buñuel started to work in France along with Silberman and Carrière. During this "French Period", Buñuel directed some of his best-known works: Le Journal d'une femme de chambre (Diary of a Chambermaid), free adaptation of the famous Octave Mirbeau's novel Le journal d'une femme de chambre; Belle de Jour; Cet obscur objet du désir (That Obscure Object of Desire); and Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie)—as well as some lesser-known films such as The Phantom of Liberty and La Voie lactée (The Milky Way).
After the release of Cet obscur objet du désir (1977) he retired from film making, and wrote (with Carrière) an autobiography, Mon Dernier Soupir (My Last Sigh), published in 1982, which provides an account of Buñuel's life, friends, and family as well as a representation of his eccentric personality. In it he recounts dreams, encounters with many well known writers, actors, and artists such as Pablo Picasso and Charlie Chaplin, and antics such as dressing up as a nun and walking around town. As one might deduce from these antics, Buñuel was famous for his atheism. In a 1960 interview with Michele Manceaux in L'Express, Buñuel famously declared: "I am still, thank God, an atheist."
Buñuel repudiated this statement in a 1977 article in The New Yorker. "I'm not a Christian, but I'm not an atheist, either", he said. "I'm weary of hearing that accidental old aphorism of mine, 'I'm an atheist, thank God.' It's outworn. Dead leaves. In 1951, I made a small film called Mexican Bus Ride, about a village too poor to support a church and a priest. The place was serene, because no one suffered from guilt. It's guilt we must escape from, not God."
Buñuel died in Mexico City in 1983.
Buñuel's films were famous for their surreal imagery; they include scenes in which chickens populate nightmares, women grow beards, and aspiring saints are desired by luscious women. Even in the many movies he made for hire (rather than for his own creative reasons), such as Susana and The Great Madcap, he usually added his trademark of disturbing and surreal images. Running through his own films is a backbone of surrealism; Buñuel's world is one in which an entire dinner party suddenly finds itself inexplicably unable to leave the room and go home, a bad dream hands a man a letter which he brings to the doctor the next day, and where the devil, if unable to tempt a saint with a pretty girl, will fly him to a disco. An example of a more Dada influence can be found in Cet obscur objet du désir, when Mathieu closes his eyes and has his valet spin him around and direct him to a map on the wall.
Buñuel never explained or promoted his work. On one occasion, when his son was interviewed about The Exterminating Angel, Buñuel instructed him to give facetious answers; for example, when asked about the presence of a bear in the socialites' house, Buñuel fils claimed it was because his father liked bears. Similarly, the several repeated scenes in the film were explained as having been put there to increase the running time.
Many of his films were openly critical of middle class morals and organized religion, mocking the Roman Catholic Church in particular but religion in general, for hypocrisy. Many of his most famous films demonstrate this:
The story of the making of Viridiana is illustrative. Buñuel's earlier Spanish and French films from the 1930s were regarded as cinema landmarks: Un Chien Andalou, L'Âge d'or, and Las Hurdes (also known as Tierra sin Pan or Land Without Bread) (1933). The advent of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, however, caused the expatriation of many artists and intellectuals from the fascist dictatorship of Franco, whose military revolt and rise to power had had the strong backing of the Spanish Catholic hierarchy.
Had Buñuel stayed in Spain, his fate might have been the same as that of his friend, poet Federico García Lorca, who was assassinated at the outset of Franco's military revolt. After some years of artistic silence forced by the difficult circumstances of his expatriation, Buñuel, then residing in Mexico, returned in full force to writing and directing with some of his best films, which once more won him international acclaim.
In 1960, for political propaganda reasons, Franco instructed his minister of culture to invite the country's most famous filmmaker to return to Spain to direct a film of his choice. Buñuel accepted and proceeded to make Viridiana produced by Mexican film tycoon Gustavo Alatriste and starring Mexican actress Silvia Pinal. He left Spain as soon as he finished the film, but left a few official copies. After viewing them, the copies were burned by the dictator's authorities. The minister of culture was reprimanded for having passed the screenplay in the first place. A copy of Viridiana, however, had been smuggled to France, where it proceeded to win the Palme D'Or at the Cannes International Film Festival. The film was banned in Spain, but got international attention and praise (with some exceptions). The Vatican's official newspaper, l'Osservatore Romano, published an article calling Viridiana an insult not only to Catholicism, but to Christianity itself.
Buñuel's style of directing was extremely economical. He shot films in a few weeks, never deviating from his script and shooting in order as much as possible to minimize editing time. He told actors as little as possible, and limited his directions mostly to physical movements ("move to the right", "walk down the hall and go through that door", etc.). He often refused to answer actors' questions and was known to simply turn off his hearing aid on the set; though they found it difficult at the time, many actors who worked with him acknowledged later that his approach made for fresh and excellent performances.
Buñuel preferred scenes which could simply be pieced together end-to-end in the editing room, resulting in long, mobile, wide shots which followed the action of the scene. Examples are especially present in his French films. For example, at the restaurant / ski resort in Belle de jour, Séverin, Pierre, and Henri are conversing at a table. Buñuel cuts away from their conversation to two young women who walk down a few steps and proceed through the restaurant, passing behind Séverin, Pierre, and Henri, at which point the camera stops and the young women walk out of frame. Henri then comments on the women and the conversation at the table progresses from there.
Buñuel disliked non-diegetic music and avoided its use, though traditional drums from Calanda sound in most of his films. The films of his French era were not scored and some (Belle de jour, Diary of a Chambermaid) are without music entirely. Belle de jour does, however, feature (potentially) non-diegetic sound effects, believed by some to be clues as to whether or not the current scene is a dream.
|Original title||English title||Year||Production country||Language||Length||Notes|
|Un chien andalou||An Andalusian Dog||1929||France||French||16 min||Written by Buñuel and Salvador Dalí|
|L'Âge d'or||The Golden Age||1930||France||French||60 min||Written by Buñuel and Salvador Dalí|
|Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan||Land Without Bread||1933||Spain||French||30 min||Documentary/mockumentary.|
|Gran Casino||Magnificent Casino||1947||Mexico||Spanish||92 min|
|El Gran Calavera||The Great Madcap||1949||Mexico||Spanish||92 min|
|Los olvidados||The Forgotten||1950||Mexico||Spanish||85 min|
|Susana||The Devil and the Flesh||1951||Mexico||Spanish||86 min|
|La hija del engaño||The Daughter of Deceit||1951||Mexico||Spanish||78 min|
|Subida al cielo||Ascent to Heaven (Mexican Bus Ride)||1952||Mexico||Spanish||85 min|
|Una mujer sin amor||A Woman Without Love||1952||Mexico||Spanish||85 min|
|El bruto||The Brute||1953||Mexico||Spanish||81 min|
|Él||This Strange Passion aka Torments||1953||Mexico||Spanish||92 min|
|La ilusión viaja en tranvía||Illusion Travels by Streetcar||1954||Mexico||Spanish||82 min|
|Abismos de pasión aka Cumbres Borrascosas||Wuthering Heights||1954||Mexico||Spanish||91 min|
|Robinson Crusoe||1954||Mexico||English||90 min|
|Ensayo de un crimen||Rehearsal for a Crime aka The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz||1955||Mexico||Spanish||89 min|
|El río y la muerte||The River and the Death||1955||Mexico||Spanish||91 min|
|Cela s'appelle l'aurore||That is the Dawn||1956||Italy/France||French||102 min|
|La mort en ce jardin||Death in the Garden||1956||France/Mexico||French||104 min|
|La fièvre monte à El Pao||Fever Rises in El Pao aka Republic of Sin||1959||France/Mexico||French||109 min|
|The Young One||1960||Mexico/USA||English||96 min|
|El ángel exterminador||The Exterminating Angel||1962||Mexico||Spanish||95 min|
|Le journal d'une femme de chambre||The Diary of a Chambermaid||1964||France/Italy||French||98 min|
|Simón del desierto||Simon of the Desert||1965||Mexico||Spanish||45 min|
|Belle de jour||1967||France/Italy||French||101 min|
|La Voie Lactée||The Milky Way||1969||France/Italy||French||105 min|
|Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie||The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie||1972||France/Italy/Spain||French||102 min|
|Le fantôme de la liberté||The Phantom of Liberty||1974||Italy/France||French||104 min|
|Cet obscur objet du désir||That Obscure Object of Desire||1977||France/Spain||French||105 min|