Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Milky Way (Luis Bunuel)

Bunuel's little seen Milky Way is the red-headed stepchild of his late-period filmography, an interesting failure blemishing his otherwise astounding series of masterpieces from the 1960s and 1970s. I have red hair and, as of last March, am now someone's stepson, so I feel some affinity with the film. I was also raised Catholic and lost my faith, like Bunuel, and, again, like Bunuel, I feel contradictory impulses to both admire and shoot poisoned darts at the religion. This film never really comes together in any satisfying way, but it's worth seeing if you're a Bunuel fan, a Catholic (lapsed or otherwise), or both. It's a satire about Catholic dogma and heresy with an episodic, anecdotal narrative structure in which two characters make a pilgrimage on foot from France to Spain to bilk some money out of the tourists flocking to see a saint's body on display in a cathedral. Along the way, they move in and out of different time periods and spatial realities and meet many well-known Christian heretics. The action frequently leaves the two main characters for minutes at a time before rejoining them. This structure is interesting, but never seems to gel into a cohesive whole. (Bunuel would use a similar structure much more successfully in The Phantom of Liberty.) The problem is that Bunuel's script is as dogmatic as his target, and he'd already covered this ground more successfully in earlier films like Viridiana and Nazarin. Bearing some similiarity to later Godard (though completely different in terms of editing and structure), the film is dense and theoretical, more of a philosophical argument than a cinematic exploration, but funny in places and always watchable.

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