3.5 Stars
Year Released: 2009
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 100 minutes
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The power of Luis Buñuel’s films lies in the fact that they unify diverging perspectives. Having whetting his style with Dali in the late 20s, Buñuel developed a taste for the surreal that he never abandoned through his 50-year career. The fears and convictions of the dream life are what Buñuel likes to realize. At the same time, the filmmaker never lost sight of his social concerns, usually in the form of criticizing oppressive forces. One of the masters of cinema continually thrills because he grabs us from the outside (i.e., through social commentary) and the inside (by tapping into the psychological). His finest films, like “The Exterminating Angel” and “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” show a sound conflation of the two influences.

With “Death in the Garden,” a minor 1956 Buñuel entry now on DVD from Microcinema International, Buñuel begins with straight-up social commentary – though the other aspect doesn’t hide out for long. A group of diamond miners in South America are removed of their rights by an oppressive Capitan, who’s more concerned with his game of chess than their well being. As the workers talk rebellion in a barroom, we meet a loose-cannon traveler, Shark (Gary Cooper-looking Georges Marchal, also in Buñuel’s “Belle de jour”), who serves as a revised take on the Man of Action in the classical American western. When he takes to his room, he finds a prostitute, Djin (the Marilyn-looking Simone Signoret), who “has” him, then rats to the authorities about his cash stash. His arrest doesn’t last long, as he breaks out right when the workers’ failed resistance occurs. After the escape, Shark hijacks a boat, where he finds the whore, a blind girl, and her noble father, who intends to marry Djin. In keeping with adventure genre playfulness, Buñuel fashions an ironic version of a rag-tag stagecoach posse, a la John Ford. However, their trip is on foot into a jungle, after they must abandon the boat.

Here Buñuel veers toward the surreal, as the group faces an absurd journey into the heart of darkness. This film delivers the filmmaker’s touch in two broad steps, and thus cannot hold company with his finest, unified work. Yet, as a plot-heavy tale, “Death in the Garden” remains exciting and offers some intrigue. Lost in the forest, the ethically pure travelers – the priest, daughter, father – reach a crisis of faith, while the seamy Shark and Djin fare much better. With the couple’s eventual survival and escape, Buñuel upturns the Judeo-Christian myth of Genesis with a modern twist: the Fall of Man never really occurred – the morally self-reliant just survived.

Posted on November 8, 2009 in Reviews by

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