[Marxism] "Nazarín"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri May 6 10:03:06 MDT 2005


I managed to watch the last half of Luis Buñuel's "Los Olvidados" and all 
of "Nazarín" last night. I first saw "Los Olvidados" in the early 1960s and 
had the same reaction to it last night as I did originally. It is a totally 
unsentimental vision of people living in poverty. Although Buñuel clearly 
hates the social system that breeds the kind of feral youth depicted in the 
film, there is not even a glimmer of hope it can be changed.

"Nazarín" is the only Buñuel film I had never seen before. It combines a 
lot of the elements found in his other works: religious obsession, sexual 
repression and scabrous behavior among the lower classes. Like "Los 
Olvidados," it was filmed in Mexico and offers up a totally bleak view of 
humanity.

"Nazarín" is the story of a Catholic priest who lives among the poor and 
takes Jesus's teachings literally. He is always turning the other cheek, 
even when local prostitutes steal the bread from his meager table. His 
uncompromising beliefs are seen as crazy not only by his lumpen neighbors 
but by the Catholic hierarchy which disowns him after he gives shelter to a 
prostitute injured in a knife fight.

Driven from his slum neighborhood, Nazarín goes on a pilgrimage in the 
Mexican countryside (the film is set in the early 1900s and is based on a 
novel by the Spanish author Benito Perez-Galdos) where he is pursued by two 
prostitutes, including the one who was stabbed. They are convinced that he 
is a new Christ and follow him blindly, despite his constant pleas to be 
left alone. In a quintessentially Buñuelian scene, the priest offers some 
prayers to a gravely ill young girl while his two disciples and other 
village women perform what amounts to an exorcism in the bedroom. One rolls 
around on the floor as possessed by the devil; another strokes the priest 
with a clump of leaves she understands to have healing powers. He can 
barely contain his disgust with their behavior. Only God and science can 
heal the young girl, he says, giving no indication that he understands that 
the two things are in conflict.

When the girl wakes up the next morning free of her fever, his two female 
disciples are more convinced than ever of his Christ-like powers. They 
follow him from village to village expecting miracles, but they experience 
nothing but grief as the villagers prey upon his guilelessness. Although 
the film is about the dubiousness of deep spirituality, it will also remind 
you of Don Quixote, another picaresque tale of the clash between idealism 
and reality.

About this film Buñuel has said, "I am very much attached to Nazarín. He is 
a priest. He could as well be a hairdresser or a waiter. What interests me 
about him is that he stands by his ideas, that these ideas are unacceptable 
to society at large, and that after his adventures with prostitutes, 
thieves and so forth, they lead him to being irrevocably damned by the 
prevailing social order."

Of course, you could say the same thing about socialists whose morality 
clashes with society at large and who are often viewed as Quixotic at best. 
Buñuel was one of the great radical film-makers of the 20th century. His 
earliest film was "Land Without Bread," a documentary about poverty in 
rural Extremadura. Like other radicals, Buñuel was also drawn to surrealism 
and even worked with Salvador Dali for a time. Unlike Dali, Buñuel had no 
use for fascism and left Spain after Franco's victory.

Buñuel died in 1983 at the age of 83. With the disappearance of film 
revival theaters in NYC and other large cities, especially foreign films of 
the 40s and 50s, your only recourse is to rent them from local stores or on 
the Internet. Even though "Nazarín" is listed as being available in VHS 
according to imdb.com, I have never seen it on the shelves. It is very much 
to the credit of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) that they are showing such 
films. Ted Turner gained some notoriety when he made the dubious decision 
to colorize black-and-white films, often to a jarring effect. There is 
nothing worse than watching some 1930s noir and seeing Humphrey Bogart or 
Edward G. Robinson's face in an almost neon peach glow. As far as I can 
tell, TCM has abandoned this practice.

--

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