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Six Definitive Films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Luis Buñuel

One of the greatest cinematic pioneers of the 20th century, Luis Buñuel had a significant impact on the evolution of the art-form. Through his unique artistic investigations, Buñuel left an enormous legacy behind which has provided endless inspiration to newer generations of filmmakers and his enigmatic works continue to mesmerise audiences to this day.

Born in a small town in Spain, Buñuel led an interesting childhood and clashed with the authority figures at school even though he was a gifted student. Due to his religious upbringing, he was devout as a child but the seeds of disillusionment were sown within him as he continued to grow and saw the hypocrisies of the religious institutions around him.

These contradictions would fuel his artistic vision, leading to the genesis of many spectacular masterpieces. Although Buñuel was interested in magic lanterns as a child, his love for cinema was properly sparked when he witnessed the magic of Fritz Lang’s 1921 silent film Destiny which inspired him to embark on the journey of becoming a filmmaker.

Check out a list of masterpieces by Luis Buñuel below.

Luis Buñuel’s six definitive films:

Un chien andalou (1929)

Often referred to as the greatest short film ever made, Un chien andalou is definitely one of the most famous artistic creations of Luis Buñuel. A collaboration between Buñuel and the legendary surrealist Salvador Dalí, this short completely changed the way cinema was conceptualised.

Funded by Buñuel’s own mother, Un chien andalou was a natural manifestation of the surrealist movement and conceptualised cinematic narrative as a dream which would later form the basis of the oneiric film theory. One of the greatest exercises in conjuring images, Dalí and Buñuel managed to strike at the core of what cinema is all about.

Los olvidados (1950)

This 1950 teen crime film is among the greatest achievements of Buñuel because it beautifully oscillates between surrealist symbolism and the profound pain of realism. It also acts a perfect point for beginners to jump into the feature films of Buñuel as it contains elements of social realism as well as surrealism.

Los olvidados provides insightful commentary about the lives of poor children surviving in a Mexico City slum who are subjected to all kinds of misfortunes. When it was first released, the film was panned by many critics but it won the accolade for Best Director at Cannes and is now considered to be a bonafide classic of Latin American cinema.

The Exterminating Angel (1962)

A stunning masterpiece that combines the frameworks of comedy, fantasy and drama with supernatural themes, The Exterminating Angel is another crowning jewel of Buñuel’s brilliant filmography. It is a deceptively simple film about rich guests who can’t seem to leave after wrapping up a very sumptuous dinner party.

Like many of Buñuel’s other works, The Exterminating Angel is laced with incisive political commentary about the gluttonous aristocracy whose sense of sophistication is painfully illusory. As time winds on and the atmospheric chaos and claustrophobia increases, the guests reveal their true selves.

Belle de jour (1967)

An erotic masterpiece by Buñuel, which is still unparalleled in many ways, Belle de jour is another critique of the extreme emptiness of bourgeois existence. Catherine Deneuve is fantastic as a housewife whose lack of satisfaction is personally moving and philosophically powerful.

Although she has vivid fantasies of engaging in sadomasochistic acts, she cannot muster up the will to do the same with her husband. Instead, she signs up as a high-class sex worker for a local brothel where she works during the afternoons in the absence of her husband.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

Perhaps the greatest political film made by Buñuel, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a delightfully sharp attack against the bourgeois sensibilities of the time. Oscillating between satirical investigations and nightmarish horror, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is nothing short of a spectacle.

The film chronicles the misadventures of a group of bourgeois friends who try to have a nice dinner but are constantly interrupted by one thing or the other. Buñuel constructs an enigmatic world that does not adhere to the logic of reality and is incredibly alluring for that very reason.

That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)

The final cinematic feature that Buñuel directed before his death, That Obscure Object of Desire proved that the master was still at the top of his game right up till the end. Contextualised within a European framework that was dominated by the threat of terrorist activities, the film follows the recollections of a middle-aged Frenchman.

He remembers what it was like to fall in love with a Spanish woman who moved him to unbearable sexual frustration. While it was a commercial failure at the time, That Obscure Object of Desire was rightly identified by critics as one of Buñuel’s best because of its unique explorations of the human condition.