A few weeks ago, I watched Luis Buñuel’s The Phantom of Liberty (1974), and I was like: “Hey! This Luis Buñuel guy is onto something.”. So, I decided to do some research, and apparently, he made like 33 films. Being the obsessive person I am, I decided to watch all of the films he directed during his life. (this has been a mission)
I’m thinking of writing a post later on rating all of his work, or at least rating the films that I manage to find on tv and online.
Anyway, I’m here today because Simon of the Desert has been in my mind since I watched it. (It has been 11 days now, so I need to analyse why it stuck with me.) Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Simon of the Desert (1965) was the last film Buñuel directed before moving to France, therefore this film is included in his Mexican period. (a period which is often considered anti-ecclesiastical) The film’s central theme concerns the contrast between high-minded spirituality and its mundane/real version. It is a satirical abstract film, and, at least for me, there is a lot of dense information that is difficult to grasp in a single viewing.
Before anything else, I want to mention a few things. The cinematography is one of the best things this film has to offer, the writing is incredibly astute, and the narrative structure is perfect (especially given the film is only 45 minutes long).
Now, regarding the plot. Simon has spent six years, six months, and six days on top of a pillar. (what a random number, ah ah ah) When the film starts, he is coming down from his tower, even if briefly, to move to a much taller one. The new pillar was provided for him by a rich benefactor, which is the first moment the audience realises the irony of what is going on. (Or at least that is when I realised it.) We have this man who is supped to be above money and material possessions in favour of being close to God, but he accepts expensive and unnecessary gifts.
Simon is a caricature of what we think a prophet would look like. He even goes through temptations similar to the ones Jesus had in the desert from the Devil, which are somewhat reproduced in the same order here.
The film ends with Simon being unable to refuse the devil one last time. Because of that, he is taken to hell which is portrayed as a busy nightclub full of people dancing. The idea that hell is “drugs and rock and roll” is not that complex or grounded in theology. It is banal, and I think that is why Buñuel chooses to present it in such a manner. It is portrayed as silly and largely incongruent with biblical teachings, just like Simon’s religious practice.
At any rate, I loved this film. Even with my limited cinema related knowledge and a brain unable to understand complex concepts without thinking about them for way too long, I still loved it. Highly recommend it!
I have to end this with the interaction between the devil and Simon once they get to hell:
Simon: ”What’s this dance called?”
The Devil: “Radioactive Flesh.” It’s the latest – and the last!”
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