Luis Bunuel and his Mexican Canon

The Mexican canon of Buñuel’s works has received a dearth of film criticism in Europe and has been obfuscated from European academia, since ‘critics deemed most of Buñuel’s Mexican work too “commercial” or creatively crippled because it emerged from the tightly structured, often generic, national film industry’ (Acevedo-Muñoz, 2003:4). This commercialism only serves to highlight the authorial independence that exhumes his European corpus of films, whether from Spain or France. It is suggested that ‘a general peculiarity of the second phase of exile: when the exiled author begins to take into account what he has achieved in the new country’ (Fuentes, 2004:164) is a theme that can be incorporated into Buñuel’s exilic Mexican body of works. However, a salient point to reinforce is the neglect of the Mexican corpus of films in his autobiographical writings, My Last Sigh (1994), which primarily concentrates upon the European canon.   

There was logic to the choice of Mexico as his country of exile after fleeing his homeland of Spain due to the Spanish civil war between Spanish communists and Spanish fascists under the dictatorship of Franco. Mexico provided a welcoming space for Spanish exiles, by mirroring the cultural and linguistic properties that it had inherited from the former colonial power. Buñuel’s career resumed in Mexico after his failure within the cinema constructed of exiles, Hollywood. The country provided a space where he could reclaim his career, after a hiatus of nearly 15 years after La terra sin pan, by directing the small budget commercial filmic products, which ‘are inconsequential. Only five of the nineteen films of this period can be considered memorable’ (Higginbotham, in Acevedo-Muñoz, 2003:1).

The corpus of films, which can be considered ‘memorable’ from his periods in exile in Mexico, comprise Los Olividados/The Young and the Damned (Buñuel, 1950), El (Buñuel, 1953), Ensayo de un crimen/The Criminal life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (Buñuel, 1955) and le Angel Exterminador/Exterminating Angel (Buñuel, 1962); the latter of which was produced after Buñuel’s periodic return to Spain. In order to create a rupture from the Mexican commercial cinema, Buñuel injects into these films a cultural dignity by means of his personal surrealist and avant garde tendencies, thereby adhering to ‘a dimension of counterpoint (the capacity of combining two cultures) that Edward Said highlights as one of the most positive qualities of the condition of exile’ (Said, in Fuentes, 2004:162). The contemporary Mexican cinema contained parallels with the Spanish national cinema, under the influence of the Franco government, due to the traditional and moral values of Catholicism and patriarchy being prominent within the society.

Since Buñuel subverted the construct of Spanish morality within his early Surrealist works in France, the fusion of Buñuel’s international influences within the Mexican traditional values produced a critique of the same hegemonies and social institutions. For example, in the case of El, the folly of the protagonist Don Francisco is presented as a ‘product of the repressive institutions that Spain and Mexico have in common- Catholicism, the patriarchal family, feudal class divisions, and machismo’ (Kinder, 1993:304). The personal and cultural elements, which Buñuel despised and battled against during his formative period of works against Spain, permeate his Mexican corpus of films in a process of fusing the Mexican and the universal influences and thus re-asserting his positioning in the realm of auteurism.

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