From Academic Kids


Luis Buuel (February 22, 1900July 29, 1983) was a Spanish-born surrealist filmmaker and poet.

Portrait of Luis Buuel
Portrait of Luis Buuel


Buuel was born in Calanda, Teruel, Aragn, Spain. He had a strict Jesuit education and went to university in Madrid. He was a very close friend of Salvador Dal and Federico Garca Lorca, among other important Spanish artists that were living in the Residencia de Estudiantes. After that, he moved to Paris to do film-related work though he knew virtually nothing about film. In Paris he made his important two first films, "Un Chien Andalou" and "L'Age D'Or", working around his technical ignorance by filming mostly in sequence and using nearly every foot of film that he shot.

After working in the film archives of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Bunuel moved to Hollywood to capitalize on the short-lived fad of producing completely new foreign-language versions of hit films for sales abroad. After Bunuel worked on a few Spanish language remakes, the industry turned instead to simple re-dubbing of dialogue.

Buuel arrived in Mexico in 1946 at the age of 46, and met film producer Oscar Dancigiers. After directing an unsuccessful film named "Gran Casino" (1946), produced by Dancigiers, Buuel thought his career as a filmmaker was over. Three years later he decided to take the mexican nationality and accepted to direct (under Dancigier's production) "El Gran Calavera" (1949), an unpretending but highly successful film starring super-star (at the time) Fernando Soler. As Buuel himself has stated, he learnt the technicalitites of directing and editing while shooting "El Gran Calavera". Its success at the box-office made Dancigiers to accept the production of a more ambitious film for which Buuel, apart from writing the script, had complete freedom to direct. The result was his critically acclaimed "Los Olvidados" (1950), a master-piece of urban surrealism (and recently considered by UNESCO as part of world's cultural heritage). "Los Olvidados" (and its triumph at Cannes) made Buuel an instant world celebrity and the most important film Spanish-speaking director in the world.

Buuel spent most of his later life in Mexico, where he directed 21 films. Some of them are master-pieces of world cinema, and were highly acclaimed, specially in European festivals. Among them we find "El" (1952), "Ensayo de un crimen" (1955), "Nazarin" (1958) (based on the novel by Benito Perez-Galdos, and adapted by Buuel to the colonial mexican context), "Viridiana" (1961) (coproduction Mexico-Spain and winner at Cannes), "El angel exterminador" (1962) and "Simon del desierto" (1965).

After the golden-age of mexican film industry was over, Buuel started to work in France along with producer Serge Silberman. During this "french age" Buuel directed some of his best-known works, such as "Belle De Jour", "That Obscure Object Of Desire", and "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgouisie" - as well as some equally brilliant but lesser-known films such as "The Phantom Of Liberty" and "The Milky Way".

He married Jeanne Rucar in 1925 and they remained married throughout his life. His sons are film-maker Rafael Buuel and Juan Luis Buuel.

He died in Mexico City in 1983 of cirrhosis of the liver.


After working on several films as a director's assistant (Jean Epstein on Mauprat and Mario Nalpas on La Sirne des Tropiques) he co-wrote and then filmed a 24 minute short film Un Chien Andalou (1929) with Salvador Dal. This film, featuring a series of startling and sometimes horrifying images (such as the slow slicing of a woman's eyeball with a razor blade) was enthusiastically received by French surrealists of the time and continues to be shown regularly in film societies to this day. He followed this with "L'Age D'Or", which was begun as a second collaboration with Dali but became Bunuel's solo project due to a falling-out they had before filming began. Creative authorship of both films would be claimed by both men throughout their lives, but Dali's claim doesn't hold up against the great surreal film work later produced by Bunuel.

Famous are his scenes where chickens populate nightmares, women grow beards and aspiring saints are desired by luscious women. Even in the many mediocre movies he made for hire (rather than for his own creative reasons), such as "Susana", "Robinson Crusoe", and "The Great Madcap", he always adds his trademark of genuinely disturbing and surreal images. Running through his own brilliant films is a backbone of devoted surrealism; Bunuel's world is one in which an entire dinner party suddenly find themselves inexplicably unable to leave the room and go home, a bad dream hands a man a letter which he brings to the doctor the next day, and where the devil, if unable to tempt a saint with a pretty girl, will fly him to a disco. "Un Chien Andalou" is often hailed as a great surrealist work, which it is, but much less is said about "The Phantom of Liberty", made nearly 50 years later and every bit as surreal, a true masterwork of a filmmaker at his peak. Bunuel kept the faith longer than any other surrealist in any medium, and true to those roots, never explained or promoted his work; as a result he is little-known and often totally misunderstood.

Many of his films were openly critical of middle class morals and organised religion, mocking the pretension and hypocrisy of the Church in ways that are often (then and now) mistaken for vicious and anti-clerical. Many of his most (in)famous films became the target of priggish fury: "L'Age D'Or" (because a bishop is thrown out a window), "Simon Of The Desert" (because the devil tempts the saint by taking the form of a naughty, bare-breasted little girl singing and showing off her legs), "Nazarin" (because the pious lead characher is a fool who wreaks ruin through his attempts at charity) and of course "Viridiana", the story of a helplessly fallen nun who tries unsuccessfully to help the poor. Bunuel was actually a deeply faithful man, whose early disillusionment with the corruption of organized religion remained with him for life and spurred him to expose it fiercely in his films.

The story of the making of Viridiana is illustrative. In 1960 Bunuel's earlier Spanish and French films were still known and respected - "Un Chien Andalou", "L'Age D'Or", and "Las Hurdes". Spain, at the time, had virtually no film industry and very little arts activity going on at all due to years of civil war and the flight of all artists and dissidents from Franco's Spain. As a result Bunuel was revered in Spain far out of proportion to the number of people who'd actually seen his films, so Franco decided to approach Bunuel about returning to Spain to make a goverment-subsidized film. Bunuel (much to the shock and anger of his friends and other Spanish expatriates) agreed to do it. He submitted the script of Viridiana to the Spanish censors, but did not make any of the changes they requested and made his film as planned. It was sent by the Spanish goverment to Cannes without being seen, and it won the Palmes D'Or. The next day, the calls and communications started pouring in - the first from the Vatican - how dare Spain produce and submit to Cannes such blasphemy! Bunuel, untouched by the scandal, went home to Mexico having made the film he wanted and seen acknowledgement for it.

His direction style was extremely economical. He shot films in a few weeks, never deviating from his script and shooting in order as much as possible to minimize editing time. He told actors as little as possible, and limited his directions mostly to physical movements ("move to the right" "walk down the hall and go through that door", etc). He often refused to answer actor's questions and was known to simply turn off his hearing aid on the set; though difficult at the time, many actors who worked with him acknowledged later that his approach made for fresh and excellent performances.

Filmography (director)

External links


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