The characters are not people, but rough drafts of simplistic character-traits, and the actors (game as they all are) cannot create something out of nothing.
Luis Bunuel, who would have been 100 this year, said he never wanted to die because "it's like quitting in the middle of a serial."
Every ten years or so, he wrote in the last passage of his autobiography, "I'd love to rise up from my grave and go buy a few newspapers. Ghostly pale, sliding silently along the walls, my papers under my arm, I'd return to the cemetery and read about all the disasters in the world before falling back to sleep, safe and secure in my tomb."
I hope he buys this paper and learns that 17 years after his death, his films are still beloved by those who savor quirky, anarchic individualism and a sly sense of humor. In honor of Bunuel's centenary, Facets Multimedia will show 13 of his films from today through Nov. 26, many of them with fresh new 35mm prints.
Bunuel is on the short list of directors whose work can be recognized after a few frames. Like Hitchcock, Fellini and Kubrick, he put such a personal stamp on everything he did that even the commercial films he made in Mexico during a low point of his career emerged as unmistakably Bunuelian.
He was a masochist, anti-clerical, an anarchist whose first film was a collaboration with Salvador Dali and whose last film, made when he was 77, still delighted in tweaking the audience's sensibilities. He mocked those who took themselves too seriously, a category that ranged from the dinner guests in "The Exterminating Angel" to "Simon of the Desert," who sat for 40 years atop a pillar. Both films were about the same problem: Once you get there, it's impossible to leave. In "Angel," his guests found they literally could not exit the house after dinner. In "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," his affluent characters had the opposite problem: Arriving for dinner, they were always interrupted.
He was banned for years by the Spanish government, and when he returned, his way of showing his gratitude was to make "Viridiana" (1961), which won an Oscar but had a shocking scene in which a drunken group of layabouts accidentally compose themselves into a tableau of The Last Supper.
In the rural Spanish district where he was born, he said, nothing had changed since the middle ages; he documented such a society in "Las Hurdes" ("Land Without Bread"). It shows right after another short film, "Un Chien Andalou," the film he made with Dali; he said he filled his pockets with rocks to throw at the audience if they didn't like it. One of his most audacious masterstrokes was with "The Phantom of Liberty," a film not included on the Facets program, where he sued two actresses interchangeably for the same role. I have reviews of "Un Chien Andalou," "The Exterminating Angel," "Belle de Jour" and "Discreet Charm" as part of my Great Movies series at www.suntimes.com/ebert. Here is the schedule at Facets, 1517 W. Fullerton:
"A Woman Without Love." Fri., Nov. 17 & Wed., Nov. 22 at 7 p.m.
"Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe." Tues., Nov. 21 & Sat., Nov. 25 at 6:30 p.m.
"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie." Sat., Nov. 18 at 6:30 p.m., Thurs., Nov. 23 at 8:30 p.m.
"The Exterminating Angel." Mon., Nov. 20 & Fri., Nov. 24 at 8:30 p.m.
"Fall Of The House Of Usher." Wed., Nov. 22 at 9:15 p.m., Fri., Nov. 24 at 7:15 p.m.
"Las Hurdes." Fri., Nov. 17 & Wed., Nov. 22 at 6:30 p.m.
"Los Olvidados." Sun., Nov. 19 at 8:30 p.m., Sun., Nov. 26 at 6:30 p.m.
"Nazarin." Sun., Nov. 19 at 6:30 p.m., Sat., Nov. 25 at 8:30 p.m.
"Simon Of The Desert." Wed., Nov. 22 at 8:30 p.m., Fri., Nov. 24 at 6:30 p.m.
"Susana." Sat., Nov. 18 at 8:30 p.m., Thurs., Nov. 23 at 6:30 p.m.
"Un Chien Andalou" and "El Bruto." Tues., Nov. 21 & Sun., Nov. 26 at 8:30 p.m.
"Viridiana." Fri., Nov. 17 at 8:30 p.m., Mon., Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m.
Captain's log: eight fifth graders, one adult, one James Cameron movie.
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