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Mexico, 1955 (MIFF 1961, Programme 10)

Director: Luis Buñuel

In The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz., Mexico's great director, Luis Bunuel, continued his investigation of psycho-sexual aberrations and false moral values — a remarkable comedie noire containing almost all the features of its director's unique personality. A small boy who sees his governess shot dead before his eyes, grows up the victim less of a traumatic shock than of a rich, doting, bourgeois family background. He is convinced that he is destined to be a murderer of women, but is continually baulked each time he tries to put his conviction into practice. To satisfy his abnormality, he melts life-size wax effigies of his intended victims in a furnace.

Despite a small budget and the addition of an unplanned commercial ending the film remains one of Bunuel's most enjoyable macabre oddities — a tragi-comic variation of the paranoic theme. Unlike the rest of Bunuel's gallery of hidden, hypocritical, or open scoundrels, Archibaldo's only calling in life is to become a scoundrel; but he is constantly and easily forestalled by all the more conventional scoundrels of everyday life. The film lends itself to various interpretations, but for all its controversial nature Bunuel's picture has a comparatively direct purpose — to present a mystery and, at the same time the key to it.

A typically cool and yet piquant flavour resides throughout in this rich mixture of real and abstract, real and imagined; with a perfect balance maintained between morbid wit and blood-stained drama by keeping the macabre elements this side of unpleasantness. Though camerawork, music and sets all effectively underline this balance, Bunuel seems to care little about the formal shape of his picture. Sudden flashbacks people and threads of narrative pop up as anarchically as do his characteristic objects — blades, insects and dummies. Dullish dialogues with actors stagily grouped alternate with purely cinematic visions; each camera set-up is exploited to the utmost. What he obviously does care about however, is conveying his distinctive view of a savage disillusioned and rebellious humanism through a hypnotically powerful imagery; and, in fact, this film provides yet another reminder that Bunuel is one of the few truly individual visionaries of the cinema.

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