Buñuel in Mexico

Feb 1–21, 2024

MoMA

Él (This Strange Passion). 1953. Mexico. Directed by Luis Buñuel. Courtesy of Photofest
  • MoMA, Floor T2/T1 The Debra and Leon Black Family Film Center

Luis Buñuel’s Mexican period is often treated as a parenthesis between the avant-garde outrages of his early European work (Un Chien Andalou, L’Age d’or) and the immaculate late masterpieces (Belle de jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie). But it was in Mexico that Buñuel became a filmmaker, mastering the technical side of the medium and learning to negotiate the conflicting demands of a popular medium.

Buñuel’s time making films in Mexico, from Gran Casino (1947) through Simon of the Desert (1965), coincided with Mexican cinema’s most prosperous and prestigious period, the epoco de oro that established its national film production, exported throughout the Americas, as a vital alternative to Hollywood. Far from being the lone European sophisticate in a sea of local amateurs, Buñuel found himself working alongside such accomplished filmmakers as Roberto Gavaldon, Julio Bracho, and Emilio Fernandez.

While Buñuel was able to introduce some films—such as Los Olvidados (1950) and The Exterminating Angel (1962)—to the international festival circuit, the greater part of his production was made for local audiences and created in popular genres, such as the ranchero musical, the folk comedy, the domestic melodrama, and even a marginal horror movie (though Buñuel never met the Aztec Mummy, alas). He also had at his disposal perhaps the most highly evolved star system outside of Hollywood, an amazing range of talent that included Pedro Armendáriz, Fernando Soler, Rosario Granados, Katy Jurado, Rosita Quintana, Lilia Prado, and many others.

With his private, obsessional themes drifting in and out of popular entertainments, Buñuel often seems to be subverting the narratives he has been assigned—as in Él, in which Mexico’s most elegant leading man, Arturo de Cordova, finds himself struggling with sexual desires he himself seems not to understand. At other times, as in Nazarín, Buñuel seems preoccupied by the spectacularly harsh landscape of his adopted country, aided by the great cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa as he evokes an ancient, pre-Columbian past.

Organized with the invaluable assistance of Daniela Michel and Chloe Roddick of the Morelia International Film Festival, this program consists of 21 of the 22 films Buñuel made in Mexico (only Cela s’appelle l’aurore, was unavailable), many in 35mm prints from the Mexican archives, La Cineteca Nacional, and Filmoteca UNAM.

Organized by Dave Kehr, Curator, with Steve Macfarlane, Department Assistant, Department of Film. Thanks to Daniela Michel and Chloe Roddick of the Morelia International Film Festival, Cineteca Nacional, Filmoteca UNAM and Fundación Televisa.

Film at MoMA is made possible by CHANEL.

Additional support is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by Debra and Leon D. Black, with major contributions from the Triad Foundation, Inc., The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), The Young Patrons Council of The Museum of Modern Art, and by Karen and Gary Winnick.

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