Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Buñuel, Luis

(1900-1983) Spanish-born movie director who during a restless life worked in Spain, France, the USA and Mexico. Of the 34 feature movies he directed – many of which he also either wrote or co-wrote – most are of fantasy interest if only in that LB, an early convert to Surrealism, never lost his Surrealist eye: even his cheaply and quickly produced Mexican movies have the "feel" of fantasy.

Having served as assistant director to Jean Epstein (1897-1953), LB first made his mark with the notorious Surrealist short Un Chien Andalou (1928), which opened with the sight of a woman's eyeball being sliced with a razor. Much more significant than such juvenilia was L'Age d'Or (1930 vt The Golden Age), his first feature movie, co-written with Salvador Dalí: filled with Surrealist imagery, this was essentially a movie about the difficulties of Love, and caused a riot during an early screening – after which it was for a while banned. A somewhat patchy career over the next years saw him doing such chores as, briefly, working in Hollywood to produce Spanish-language versions of Warner Bros. movies. He went to Mexico in 1946, remaining there until 1961 although also making a number of movies in France. During this period, LB's movies of fantasy interest included The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1952; ot Las Aventuras de Robinson Crusoe), which mesmerizingly portrays no character at all except Crusoe (Dan O'Herlihy) until close to its end, when Friday (Jaime Fernandez) appears. A decade later there appeared The Exterminating Angel (1962; ot El Ángel Exterminador), an intriguing work of fantasy in that, while we know the supernatural elements are there, they are kept off-screen. Like L'Age d'Or and others since, it sees LB ruthlessly assault middle-class values: a group of people, somehow unable to leave a room, soon descend into barbarism; when at last they escape they go to a cathedral, where the process repeats itself. Belle de Jour (1966) continued the assault, although rather more gently and wittily, in its tale of a beautiful woman (Catherine Deneuve), married to a successful surgeon, who feels she must spend her afternoons as a call-girl: we are never quite sure if the movie's surface events are erotic Dream or reality. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972; ot Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie) uses similar means to those of The Exterminating Angel to show corruption, as a group of "respectable" crooks and their entourage try to have a quiet meal. The Phantom of Liberty (1974; ot Le Fantôme de la liberté) resembles a collection of sketches rather than a feature; very funny, it belongs more to the Fantastic than to fantasy. That Obscure Object of Desire (1977; ot Cet obscur objet du desir) tells of a puritanical man's obsessive love for a beautiful younger woman, which obsession he is barred from consummating with her even after bedding her; the obscurity of the "object" is enhanced by the casting of two actresses (Carole Bouquet, Angela Molina) in the single role.

It is hard to locate LB within fantasy; it is equally hard to omit him from any consideration of fantasy. Such difficulties are a common hallmark of the most significant fantasy creators. [JG]

Luis Buñuel


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.