Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Bunuel and Surrealism

In response to Satyam's note on surrealism in cinema; and, in particular, to these lines:

It seems to me that Bunuel is a master at this mode precisely because he eschews the earlier Dali-esque ways and resorts to ‘formal’ narratives that are madly surreal otherwise. Or rather his surrealism is all the more effective to the extent that it erupts in the midst of a certain formal rigor.

I think Bunuel is able to produce this effect because he is one of the premier representers of perversity; or rather, one might say his social critique takes the form of revealing the perversity that underlies the ordinary, the routine, the everyday. The surreal in the late Bunuel, that is to say in films like Belle du Jour; The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, or Cet Obscure Objet de Desire, is not the surreal of Dali (which I would characterize as the presentation of a reality that simultaneously underlies “normal” reality, and is stubbornly other than it), but the effect of unreality produced by the bourgeois insistence on normalcy in the face of abnormality. “Surreal” here is the effect produced by the characters within the film ignoring the elephant in the room — even as the whole film is geared toward showing the audience the world of the film in the elephant’s permanent shadow.

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1 comment:

sepoy said...

The late Bunuel also moves his surreal into the internal lives of the character - which peeks out into the "routinzed normality" at key off-moments. I think Simon of the Desert is a great transition moment - which gives us the irreal and the surreal in service of a "historical" narrative.