Restored films by Luis Buñuel, Dennis Hopper and Jacques Tourneur in Venice Classics

Posted on September 5, 2019


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The Classics section at the Venice Film Festival aims to present “a selection of the finest recent restorations of classic films, and documentaries about cinema or individual authors of yesteryear or today.” One of the first films I caught in this section was a restored version of Ensayo de un Crimen (The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz; Spanish), which Luis Buñuel made in 1955. It’s a dark comedy about a man who thinks he’s a murderer. As a child, during the Mexican Revolution, Archibald’s mother gives him a music box. The child listens to its melody, fascinated by the revolving ballerina. The next instant, his governess is killed by a stray bullet as she peers from the window. She falls, revealing her thighs. The boy is fascinated even more. Sex and death and childhood come together in a wryly perverse stretch.

Is Archibald responsible for the many deaths that follow? While we await the answer, a string of superb, typically Buñuelian set pieces follow. Most memorable is the destruction (the “death”, if you will) of a mannequin that looks so amazingly lifelike that watching it go up in flames is like watching a human being melt. In Objects of Desire: Conversations With Luis Buñuel, by José de la Colina and Tomás Pérez Turrent, the great director said, “I am attracted to the darkness in a character. If you try to build a character too rationally, he will not become alive. There must be a grey area.” Archibald is the very embodiment of this philosophy. He wants to kill. But why? There are no reasons except the ones that keep us guessing. Only Buñuel could make a serial-killer thriller about a serial killer who may only think he’s a serial killer.

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