The first half of the twentieth century is arguably, from an historical, cultural and artistic point of view, the most interesting period in modern times. In historical terms, no other era has witnessed two wars of catastrophic proportions, and no previous age has experienced such a cultural and artistic explosion, over a relatively short space of time, of movements as inventive and dynamic as Expressionism, Futurism, Surrealism. The arrival of "talkies" in this period produced actors of the calibre of Charlie Chaplin and influential directors like Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, though, Surrealism had the great and lasting impact on future generations.
Surrealism consisted of a revolutionary attitude towards life, a philosophy which emphasized the importance of the unconscious, as opposed to the exercise of reason and logic. Luis Bunuel was one of the pioneer and master of the surrealist cinema, a film movement responsible for some of the most daring, provocative and original films of the twentieth century. Through a film career spanning almost fifty years, Bunuel sustained a virulent attack against the bourgeois middle classes, the church and fascism. In both his work, and his life, Bunuel was a exile, and a perpetual paradox.
- Luis Bunuel was born in on February 22nd 1900 in Calenda, Spain. He was the eldest of seven children born to a wealthy land-owning family. Aged 17, he began his university studies at the prestigious Residencia de estudiantes, an establishment that brought together Spain's greatest creative minds.
- After his father died in 1925, Buñuel headed to Paris. He knew and loved the silent comics, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton especially, from his time at the Residencia, but it wasn’t until he came to Paris that he focused his creative energies on directing films.
- He enrolled in an acting school run by the famous French director Jean Epstein, a experience which taught him a great deal, and evoked his interest in directing. Although he did not become a member of the official Paris surrealist group until after the premiere of 'Un Chien Andalou,' it is quite evident that Bunuel was already familiar with Surrealist ideas.
- Bunuel's contact with the avant-garde movements in Madrid, his Paris associations, his wide and reading, and his ever closer friendship with Salvador Dali, all guaranteed that this would be the case, so it is not surprising that Bunuel's film should have immediately been acknowledged as a true surrealist film.
- Un Chien Andalou still retains its power to shock. Dalí and Buñuel wrote the film together, based on their dreams, in what Buñuel describes as perfect symbiosis: "We wrote the script in less than a week, following a very simple idea, adopted by common agreement: not to accept any idea or image that might give rise to a rational, psychological or cultural explanation." The bond between them would soon break down however.
- The following year, sponsored by wealthy art patrons, he made his first feature, the scabrous witty and violent L'âge d'or (1930), which mercilessly attacked the church and the middle classes, themes that would preoccupy Buñuel for the rest of his career.
- His next film, Las Hurdes (1932), a 27-minute documentary, was the result of chance. Ramón Acín, a Spanish anarchist and friend, told Buñuel that if he won the lottery he would finance his next film. Luck struck both of them, and Buñuel assembled a crew to film a “surrealist documentary.”
- From 1934 to 1936 Bunuel worked as a producer for the Spanish film company Filmofono. After the Spanish civil war, Bunuel began his lengthy exile in America. He worked for a time in the archives of the museum of modern art in New York before moving to Hollywood, where he was employed in producing foreign-language versions of popular films.
- In 1946, Bunuel moved to Mexico where he gained Mexican citizenship and resumed his film career. the failure of Gran Casino(1946) was followed by Bunuel's first success El Gran Calavera (1949). Bunuel would win critical acclaim and establish himself as an auteur Los Oliviadados(1950), a grim portrait of Mexico's forgotten poor, which is famous for a surreal dream sequence. The film earned him 'Best Director" award at "Cannes."
- Over the following decade, he made around fifteen films in Mexico, of varying degrees of quality. The best of these is Nazarin (1958), the first of his intensely ironic explorations of religion and faith.
- The early 1960's marked Luis Bunuel return to Europe and a marked upsurge in his creative input. Meant to signal his return and reconciliation to his homeland, Buñuel was given a great deal of freedom with the script and rushed the film to Cannes before the final version was seen by officials.
- When Viridiana was screened, its combination of rape, suicide and mockery of Christian charity proved too much. It was, however, the blasphemous re-creation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper in the beggars’ banquet that made it a scandal. Viridiana made him once again the centre of attention of the film world and opened the door for his return to European filmmaking.
- Viridiana was followed by "The Exterminating Angel," a flagrant attack on bourgeois life, in which the director uses his master of surrealism to great effect. In 1966, Catherine Deneuve appeared as the bourgeois wife/prostitute in the 1967 Venice Film Festival winner Belle de jour. With Tristana (1970) Buñuel would return to Spain. Tristana stars Fernando Rey, Buñuel’s faithful alter ego.
- Now settled in France, Bunuel was to round of his career with a trilogy of hugely popular films which provide his most effective assault on the bourgeois middle classes. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Phantom of Liberty (1974), That Obscure Object of Desire – differ from Bunuel's earlier anti-bourgeois offerings. Here, the director's aim is not to stir the fires of class warfare, but rather to invite us to join him in laughing at the sheer absurdity of middle classes.
- In 1983, he died, his wife at his side. He chose Mexico as his resting place, having spent his last few months in the company of a Catholic priest.
- Trade Mark : Insects. Satirizies or outright attacks bourgeois lifestyles. Shocking subject matter. Mockery or wholesale attacks upon religion, especially Catholicism.
- He was fluent in Spanish and French but never learned to speak English. Was voted the 14th Greatest Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Luis Bunuel Quotes
"Nothing would disgust me more morally than winning an Oscar."
"'God and Country' are an unbeatable team; they break all records for oppression and bloodshed."
"A writer or a painter cannot change the world. But they can keep an essential margin of nonconformity alive."
"Fortunately, somewhere between chance and mystery lies imagination, the only thing that protects our freedom, despite the fact that people keep trying to reduce it or kill it off altogether."
Bunuel's unpretentious style has the advantages of allowing the narrative of a film to develop, without distraction, shot by shot, in an apparently effortless manner, which, is of course, the hall-mark of the artist in complete command of his material. In short, there is often an naturalness about a Bunuel film which, as in the case of a beautifully crafted piece of music, conceals the art that has produced it -- invariably the sign of a true master.