Monday, 14 October 2013

El (This Strange Passion) [1953]

In El, one of the darkest products of his Mexican period, Bunuel provided a disturbing look into obsession, jealousy, paranoia and passion bordering on sadomasochism. And, like only he could, the aforementioned aspects were seamlessly linked to the character’s belongingness to the bourgeoisie and upper class, and his Catholic upbringing, as opposed to something more primal. Don Francisco (Arturo de Córdova) is a wealthy middle-aged aristocrat who falls in love at first sight with the young and beautiful Gloria (Delia Garcés). Even though she’s engaged to a friend of his, he uses his charm, persuasive skills and guile to win her over. However, trouble begins soon after their marriage as his latent inner devils make him increasingly suspicious of her chastity and fidelity. It starts with small instances, but gradually takes the form of raging lunacy. Yet, most interestingly, he never loses grip on his sly and manipulative nature all the while, including at the magnificent but disconcerting finale. And his madness for Gloria was brilliantly counterpointed with his crazy pursuit for a land that he feels belongs to him. The film’s structure was also noteworthy, as the initial and final few scenes were from a third person’s perspective, while the middle section, narrated via an elaborate flashback, was from Gloria’s POV as she’s torn between her social “duty” as a compliant wife while her intelligence suggests otherwise. The brooding B/W photography and baroque set-pieces perfectly accentuated the film’s tone and theme, while Córdova’s powerful performance made it all the more discomfiting. The bell tower sequence here, by the way, might just have been the inspiration behind an eerily similar sequence in Hitchcock's Vertigo.

Director: Luis Bunuel
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Marital Drama
Language: Spanish
Country: Mexico


Sam Juliano said...

"Bunuel provided a disturbing look into obsession, jealousy, paranoia and passion bordering on sadomasochism..."

Indeed Shubhajit! Brilliant review of a particular Bunuel favorite of mine. I never forgot the scene when Don Francisco looks down from the tower, likening the people he sees as "ants." You've collared this work here superbly!

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Sam. Yeah, that scene was memorable. In fact, Don standing on a much higher pedestal & literally looking down on the general populace, was a particularly vital motif - thanks for pointing that out.