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Archive for the ‘Ed Howard’s Movie Reviews’ Category

     

by Ed Howard

The Exterminating Angel is Luis Buñuel’s most darkly funny and vicious satire of upper-class mores, an eviscerating portrait of how easily the façades of civility, nobility and good manners can be broken down. The film’s famous premise involves a dinner party for a group of wealthy friends after an opera, hosted at the opulent mansion of Edmundo (Enrique Rambal) and Lucía (Lucy Gallardo). Everyone arrives in high spirits, talking and laughing. In fact, in one of Buñuel’s first surrealist intrusions into the surface of the film, the guests actually arrive twice in quick succession, the same scene playing out two times before the guests are allowed to go upstairs. Once there, they find that all the servants have left, without explanation, leaving only Julio (Claudio Brook) to serve dinner and perform all the other necessary tasks. So the party keeps subtly slipping off the rails right from the start. Edmundo gives a toast twice, though this time instead of the scene playing out the same way with each repetition, the host finds that the second time around everyone has completely ignored him. When the waiter comes to serve the first course, which Lucía has announced with much hype and enthusiasm, the servant trips and falls, splattering the meal all over the nearby dinner guests. (more…)

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by Ed Howard

Luis Buñuel’s final film of his Mexican period is the short, punchy Simon of the Desert, possibly the great surrealist’s wittiest and funniest film, and certainly his most focused meditation on a subject that interested him throughout his career: the combined folly and nobility of profound religious faith. Certainly, there is no protagonist in Buñuel’s oeuvre who better represents this dialectical representation of religion than the holy fool Simon (Claudio Brook), an ascetic who lives alone in the desert on the top of a pillar, fasting, praying, willfully turning his back on the entirety of the world. When the film opens, he has in essence been rewarded for his solitary suffering: the local priests come to offer Simon a better, taller pillar, donated by a rich man, and Simon accepts. The man who professes to want no worldly things, to have no need for his fellow beings, thinks nothing of taking this gift, a worldly and ornate pillar on which he can make his ascetic offerings to God. Buñuel makes even more of a sly joke of it by having the priests tell him that he’s been standing on this pillar for six years, six months and six days: the Biblical number of the Beast from the Book of Revelations, a sign of the Apocalypse. (more…)

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by Ed Howard

Boudu Saved From Drowning is Jean Renoir’s sardonic, wryly comic take on the antagonism between bourgeois values and lower-class crudity. The title figure, Boudu (Michel Simon), is an oafish beggar, an outrageously whiskered tramp who stomps heedlessly over the supposed dignity and sophistication of middle-class respectability. When the bourgeois book store owner Lestingois (Charles Granval) saves Boudu from drowning in the river, he becomes the tramp’s benefactor, feeding and clothing Boudu and giving him a place to sleep indefinitely. Lestingois is portrayed as a decent man in many ways, good-hearted and generous, willing to do good deeds for their own sake: he gives away books to young students, recognizing their romantic, poetic spirit from his own youth, and his rescue of Boudu is not motivated by the awards and kudos heaped on him by his neighbors, with which he seems mildly uncomfortable. At the same time, however, Lestingois is an avatar of bourgeois pretensions and affectations. He has a piano in his house, despite the fact that no one plays it, because respectable families simply must have one, and he carries on an affair with his plump, giggly maid Anne Marie (Sévérine Lerczinska) because his standoffish wife Emma (Marcelle Hainia) no longer interests him. (more…)

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