Saturday 15 April 2023

Simon of the Desert [1965]

Simon of the Desert – considered part of his extraordinary “Alatriste/Pinal trilogy” along with Viridiana and The Exterminating Angel, as well as his admired “Religious trilogy” along with Nazarín and The Milky Way – was the final film that Buñuel made in Mexico, as well as his final collaboration with Silvia Pinal, her then producer-husband Gustavo Alatriste, and Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. Curtailed ostensibly on account of production and financial woes, this gleefully wicked interpretation of Saint Simeon Stylites’ self-imposed life atop a pillar in the middle of a desert seeking penance, provided a spare and droll demonstration of classic “Buñuelian” elements for its striking use of surrealism and its cutting satire on blind faith, harsh self-flagellation and rigid dogmatism that organized religion both peddles and champions. Simón (Claudio Brook) experiences “professional advancement” even in a life of extreme self-denial such as this, wherein, after spending six years, six weeks and six days on a 10-feet pillar, he moves to a significantly taller one erected by a wealthy patron; attains both celebrityhood and scorn among monks and commoners for his ascetism; performs an off-hand miracle which, ironically, doesn’t lead to any brouhaha; and engages in wryly comical battles with a sly, indefatigable and chameleon-like Satan (Pinal) who manifests in multiple forms – as a coquettish seductress, in the ruse of god, etc. – in order to break his absurd abnegation. In the film’s terrific and thoroughly insane finale, Simón is teleported by Satan to a swinging rock 'n' roll nightclub in modern-day New York City, amidst a frenzied crowd indulging in “radioactive flesh” – in a wry reference to the Cold War nuclear arms race and “Mutually Assured Destruction” – against a pulsating live music.

Director: Luis Bunuel

Genre: Black Comedy/Religious Satire/Surrealist Movie

Language: Spanish

Country: Mexico

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