What, you think I could describe this with words? L'age d'Or (1930)
Banned in Spain for 50 years following a riot by the fascist group League Of Patriots, Luis Buñuel's surrealist masterwork L'age d'Or, described by American novelist Henry Miller as "a divine orgy", finally arrives on Blu-Ray this month, courtesy of the BFI. It (sort of) tells the story of The Man (Gaston Modot) and The Young Girl (Lya Lys) as they attempt to consummate their burgeoning sexual desire against the backdrop of a stiff bourgeoisie value system. Satirical, subversive and bitingly silly, there's not really much left for me to say about a film which has had every important article written about it over the 81 years since its release. I won't bore you with yet another analytical theory piece, as understanding the film is a trivial objective anyway - it's not supposed to make sense, and you won't succeed. Un Chien Andalou (1929) existed because Dalí and Buñuel had dreams which they sought to put on film; those images come from subconscious and imagination, and have the free-form structure of an art form entirely non-narrative: the dream itself. L'age d'Or exists by largely the same principles, which is not to say that there aren't valid readings or sociopolitical agendas (indeed, Dalí disowned the project due to Buñuel's obsession with politics), and therefore metaphorical interpretations normally lie more prevalently in the mind of the viewer than the text of the film itself. Some people read a message about barbarity and violence into the scorpion prologue. The truth is simply that Buñuel had an obsession with insects; they reappear throughout his work due to a childhood fascination, when his walls were adorned with cabinets of butterflies, beetles and arachnids.
One thing that did surprise me about L'age d'Or was its relative narrative simplicity; not that there is a through-line per se, but that it's always clear what is happening in the story, characters are clearly defined and time and place is adequately informed. Un Chien Andalou is an extraordinary assault on the senses and, as aforemntioned, free-form; you can't get a hold on the story because there isn't really one. In L'age d'Or there is not only a story, but also conscious character arcs and an end goal. This probably helps the film, which runs at 63 minutes, as we are engaged by a dramatic focus as well as the Surrealist agenda. So, what is there left for me to say about the film now? I suppose I must do what all critics do, and simply give my opinion. I think L'age d'Or is a masterpiece, but not as good as Un Chien Andalou, which is a braver, bolder piece of work, yet that statement mustn't deter you from picking up this release. Surrealist cinema is in short supply, as the form was mostly interpreted through painting and literature (influences on Buñuel include Francisco Goya and Valle Inclán), so we should celebrate when films such as this appear. It's an inventive, beautiful and often funny film, packed with stunning images and ideas, yet we should not flounder in futile academia; L'age d'Or is a film to be enjoyed, reveled in and surprised by. It's a treat for all cinema fans, and I urge you to see it.
The Blu-Ray transfer is typically beautiful, and the film is presented in its original 1.19:1 aspect ratio and mono 2.0 sound. I was actually amazed by the clarity of the picture, considering the age of the piece. Extras are typically abundant, although the accompanying booklet, including mini-essays and biographies, is slimmer than usual. Un Chien Andalou (1929) is present in remastered form and will be reviewed separately. An introduction to the film by Robert Short is interesting, as is his selected scene commentary on L'age d'Or and full commentary on Un Chien Andalou. The most exciting extra though is a feature length documentary from 2000, A propósito de Buñuel, reviewed below...
A propósito de Buñuel (José Luis López-Linares, Javier Rioyo, 2000)
This decent talking heads doc charts Buñuel from the Residencia de Estudiantes University, where he befriended Federico García Lorca and Salvador Dalí, through his early surrealist days with Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L'age d'Or (1930), right up to his deeply saddening death on July 29th 1983. This is clearly a loving record of Buñuel, packed with anecdotes about his personal life and working method, balancing his beliefs, habits and humour with skill, and giving us a fair and informative portrait of the man, but on the whole it's insubstantial, and never scratches beneath the surface. It's a light hearted portrait, quite a repetitive one and, while entertaining, no more revealing than the 1982 biography My Last Sigh, from which Pepe Sancho reads excerpts for this film. It's nice to see friends talk about Buñuel with passion and reverence, but hardcore fans will have seen all of this before, and likely need something more than kooky trivia.