Simon del DesiertoDirector: Luis Buñuel
Financing troubles prevented Luis Bunuel from filing out his witty and venomous religious satire Simon des Desierto (aka Simon Of The Desert) to full feature length, but at forty-five minutes it's almost perfectly balanced and the Criterion Collection have finally made Bunuel's final Mexican film available on DVD in the United States. Simon of the Desert has been transferred to disc in its original full-frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and has been slightly window-boxed so the full picture will be more readily seen on conventional monitors. The transfer is good enough to reveal a few minor streaks and tonal shifts in the original elements, but it's also taken from a spotlessly clean print and Gabriel Figueroa's camerawork is much better served here than in the muddy-looking VHS editions of this film available in the Eighties. The audio ha been mastered in Dolby Digital Mono and the fidelity is quite good for a film from the period. The dialogue is in Spanish, with optional English subtitles but no multiple language options included. In addition to Bunuel's original short subject, this edition also includes A Mexican Bunuel, a fine documentary by Emilio Maille on the great filmmaker's years in the Mexican film industry, and an interview with actress Silvia Pinal, who recalls working with Bunuel and her role as the devil's emissary. Criterion has also included a handsome booklet with this disc, featuring an essay on Simon of the Desert from Michael Wood, excerpts from interviews with Bunuel in which he talks about the film, and plenty of stills from the picture. Given its length, Simon of the Desert hasn't enjoyed an especially distinguished history on home video, but this release from Criterion helps make up for that, and this minor masterpiece has rarely if ever looked this good in any format.
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Cast & Crew
|Silvia Pinal||The Devil|
|Hortensia Santovena||The Mother|
|Enrique Alvarez Felix||Brother Matias|
|Raúl Lavista||Score Composer|
1. New Column [8:09]
2. Temptation [2:31]
3. Corporeal Concerns [4:08]
4. Innocent [5:31]
5. Satan [6:55]
6. Earthly Pleasure [5:24]
7. Blessings [5:59]
8. Journey [6:50]
9. Color Bars [:00]
1. Beginnings [5:52]
2. First Films In Mexico [4:58]
3. Los Olvidados [14:49]
4. Black Comedy [7:06]
5. Collaborators [2:53]
6. Religion [4:37]
7. Working With Actors [4:14]
8. Simon of the Desert [3:17]
9. "Luis is Everything" [7:51]
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BUÑUEL¿S ¿SIMON OF THE DESERT¿ STILL PROVOKES
By Robin E. Simmons
Forty-four years ago, Luis Buñuel (1900-1983), the Spanish film meistro still living in self-imposed Mexican exile from Franco¿s, rule directed what was to become his most famous work of surrealism.
Buñuel¿s last Mexican film, ¿Simon of the Desert¿ (Simon del Desierto), was originally intended to be a full-length feature film, but was cut short ¿ literally ¿ when the promised funding evaporated. With about 40 minutes of scripted material in the can, Buñuel radically altered the ending. A change that ensured the movie¿s well-deserved acclaim.
Simon is based on Symeon the Stylite, also known as the Hermit of the Pillar (around 400 A.D.). He was one of the many ascetics who sought salvation by isolation and deprivation after the fall of the Roman Empire. Simon chose to live atop a column, dependent on the good will of strangers for bread and water.
Like much of Buñuel¿s work, ¿Simon of the Desert¿ is considered blasphemous by some. The ¿enfante terrible of surrealism,¿ a name Buñuel loved being called, depicts a bearded, bedraggled Simon (a terrific Claudio Brook) atop his pillar for six years, six months, six days (uh oh, 666), when the devil periodically appears (a la sensuous Sylvia Pinal) and taunts him, hoping he will climb down.
¿Thank God I¿m still an atheist,¿ Buñuel was often quoted as saying. But he was educated by Jesuits and steeped in religious myth, ritual and culture. His mockery of organized religion is often inspired (no pun intended). Perhaps now more than ever as we are engaged in a global conversation regarding the effects religious fundamentalism and fanaticism.
¿Simon of the Desert¿ comes to an abrupt and improvised ending that reminds me of the best of Rod Serling¿s ¿Twilight Zone¿ scripts. Deeply moral and ironic, it¿s a jolting time-warp leap that gives new meaning to the emptiness of the post-modern age, the banality of evil and the superficiality of pop culture.
The new, restored, high-definition digital transfer is, as with all Criterion titles, as good as possible. Extras include A Mexican Buñuel an 56 minute 1997 documentary and a new interview with actress Sylvia Pinal. An included booklet features a new essay by Michael Wood and a vintage interview with Buñuel.
For the serious collector of world cinema landmarks, this is one for the digital library.
Also new from Criterion is Buñuel¿s other gem ¿The Exterminating Angel.¿