National Cinema

Indecent Exposures: Buñuel, Saura, Erice and Almodóvar by Gwynne Edwards

Gwynne Edwards’ Indecent Exposures: Buñuel, Saura, Erice and Almodóvar examines the unique influence and residual legacy of the Spanish Civil War on the films of four notable Spanish directors: Luis Buñuel, Carlos Saura, Victor Erice, and Pedro Almodóvar.

Edwards examines three Luis Buñuel films, Viridiana, The Exterminating Angel, and Tristana in order to characterize the seemingly odd alliance between church and state during the Franco regime. By analyzing the permutation of underlying human behaviors of the inherently patriarchal culture of Spanish society under the ideological conflict posed by the political environment of Fascist Spain, Edwards categorizes Buñuel’s pervasive themes of objectification of women, subliminal guilt, and sexual repression as perverse consequences of this unnatural union. In Viridiana and the subsequent film Tristana, Buñuel reflects the hypocrisy and incongruous coexistence of institutional religion and individual desire through the complex societal roles and dynamic personal relationship between a chaste and vulnerable young woman and an older, sexually aggressive benefactor.

Like Buñuel, Carlos Saura’s body of work during this period also reflect the dysfunctionality of human behavior under a repressive society. Saura’s early films, The Hunt and Cría Cuervos provide a dark and unsettling portrait of dehumanization and instinctual violence that results from the inbredness of profound isolation. Additionally, Saura’s “musical” film Carmen, the second installment of the dance trilogy that also includes Blood Wedding and Love the Magician attempts to capture the coexistence of passion and violence innate in the culture. Returning to a subject broached in Cría Cuervos through Ana’s mother’s abbreviated career as a musician, Saura’s subsequent film Ay, Carmela! also reflects the suppression of artistic freedom and creativity under the Franco regime.

The films of Victor Erice provide a more oblique approach to illustrating the vestigial scars of the Spanish Civil War. In The Spirit of the Beehive, Erice encapsulates the frustration, uncertainty, and confusion of children attempting to reconcile with the sense of isolation inherent in their emotionally detached parents and insular community. In the film, The South, Erice depicts the the process of demystification and self-discovery as a young woman’s quest to learn more about her idolized father leads to a poignant realization (a theme similarly explored in Theo Angelopoulos’s Landscape in the Mist).

Buñuel’s enduring influence in contemporary Spanish cinema is especially evident in Pedro Almodóvar’s penchant for surrealist plots and dark, caustic humor, as his affectionate, but comically absurd films, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and High Heels illustrate. In Matador, Almodóvar parallels the spectacle, choreography, and violence of traditional bullfighting with the performance of the mating ritual. It is through this examination of the interrelation between sexuality and violence that Almodóvar’s films draw comparison to Buñuel’s subversive cinema.

Acquarello, 2002 [reprinted]

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