Susana (1951)

Big, obvious drama with overbearing music and vaguely supernatural elements. Not as excitingly Bunuelian as I would’ve liked, but way better than Gran Casino.

Susana (Rosita Quintana, who was still acting in 2005, if IMDB is to be believed) is locked in solitary at the sanitarium for misbehaving, in the company of rats and an awesomely fake-looking rubber bat; begs God for mercy and the jail bars come loose. Not as impressive as in The Rapture, but it’ll do. She crashes at the first place she finds, a peaceful ranch, and gets herself in with the family to wreak havoc from within.

Susana with ranch-hand Jesus: Víctor Manuel Mendoza, who went on to appear in some Hollywood westerns:

Felicia the maid doesn’t trust Susana from the start (her line, about the storm outside, “it seems there’s a demon loose out there” comes right as Susana’s face appears in the window), but Susana seduces all the men in the house: Jesus, Don Guadelupe (Fernando Soler, star of El Gran Calavera and Daughter of Deceit around the same time) and bookish son Alberto. Actually it doesn’t seem like she seduces Jesus, it more seems that he’s a slimy rapist stalker, but I’ll take the movie’s word for it. Dona Carmen, the woman of the house, eventually realizes what’s going on and joins the maid in trying to eject the interloper – but is it too late? Another rainstorm scene where S. brushes her hair in the window in silhouette while all three men watch her from different positions. Susana confronts Dona Carmen and says if Guadelupe is forced to choose, he’ll choose Susana. Jesus is kicked out of the house: one less rival for Don Guad’s affection. Finally the cops catch up with Susana and take her away, Jesus is hired back, and Don Guad’s prize horse, which had been sick since the initial storm, miraculously recovers.

Susana and Alberto hide in the well:

Very decent acting and cinematography (Jose Ortiz Ramos, who later shot the classics Brainiac: Baron of Terror and Samson vs. the Vampire Women). Bunuel likes to shoot Susana’s legs, incl. one weird scene where Jesus breaks the eggs she’s holding and they run all down her legs.

NY Times: “Though the movie means to be steamy, Bunuel is apparently more amused than shocked by Susana’s brazen ambition and the no-nonsense way she goes about her conquests. Toward the end, when the traffic in and out of Susana’s bedroom is fairly heavy, the movie has the manner of a grandly operatic farce.”

Deleuze says some quizzical shit about “the intrinsic qualities of the possible object.” I don’t know what that means, but three different sites I checked called this Bunuel’s worst movie (or his “most unspectacular” or “fairly insignificant”) – have they never seen Gran Casino?

Ensayo de un crimen (Rehearsal for a Crime), or,
The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (1955)

It’s the Mexican Revolution! Little Archibaldo’s mother acts like it’s a huge inconvenience that her theater date has been canceled because the revolution has arrived in town. Archie, alone with the nanny, wishes upon a music box for the nanny’s death and she’s immediately killed by a stray bullet through the window. Years later a grown Archie (Wuthering Heights star Ernesto Alonso) is threatening nuns with a razor when one runs down the hall and falls down an open elevator shaft. The movie carries on like this, Archie indirectly causing people’s deaths or not causing them at all, and thinking he’s got some unholy power via the magic music box, which he reacquires as an adult, buying it out from under a cute girl.

Archibaldo in triplicate with his killer razor:

Lavinia glimpsed through a wall of flame:

The cute girl, Lavinia (Miroslava, who killed herself before the movie was released) becomes wealthy Archibaldo’s full-time fascination. He buys a mannequin made in her image (she models for artists) and poses it around his house, then watches it melt in his kiln (he’s a part-time sculptor) when she angers him. Having taken his revenge on the fake Lavinia, he proposes to pretty young innocent Carlotta – but she has been seeing a guy named Alejandro. Archie’s revenge-fantasies kick in again (shades of fellow murder-comedy Unfaithfully Yours) and he dreams of shooting the cheating woman dead in their marital bed after the wedding… but Alejandro shows up to the wedding and shoots her instead.

Cut to framing-device authority figure (was it a psychiatrist or an officer of the law?) who says he can’t lock Archie up for dreaming people dead. Archie seems bummed that he isn’t believed to have done anything wrong, but runs into Lavinia, the girl who survived his wrath, and walks happily away with her.

Legs of the nanny:

Leg of the dummy (Tristana, anyone):

I wasn’t expecting a lot after Susana, but this was excellent. V. Canby in the NY Times agrees. “The sight of the boring, but very pretty, governess lying dead on the carpet, her skirts in a tangle around her upper thighs, makes a lasting impression on the boy, who thereafter goes through life confusing love, death and sexuality. … Archibaldo is a very polite, considerate and wise nut, aware of almost everything except that he is the inevitable (in Buñuel’s view) product of religious and sexual repression.”

Carlotta in her final moments:

As far as movies about fat, opaque, dull-witted men with menial jobs in alienated cities who eventually turn to crime and suicide, I suppose I liked this better than Crimson Gold, and as far as movies with extended blowjob scenes, I suppose I liked this better than The Brown Bunny. But that’s not to say I liked this all that much. Certainly not in my top films of the decade there, Sight & Sound, but I suppose important critics give bonus points to stuff that can “willfully sabotage narrative tension and dynamism,” while I enjoy movies with more, I don’t know, narrative tension and dynamism?


Opens with some very nice string music as the camera slowly reveals a girl giving a blowjob, and it looks like video but I can’t tell if that’s just the DVD transfer. Marcos the giant chauffeur picks up Ana the general’s daughter and escorts her to the “boutique” where she is secretly a high-class prostitute. They have awkward sex (her on top him being perfectly still, she jokingly says “calm down Marcos”) while the camera wanders off out the window, slowly takes in the whole courtyard area around the building before returning to the couple. I suppose that sabotaged narrative tension, and it was actually one of my favorite moments so maybe I like that sort of thing.


Half an hour into the movie, Marcos quietly tells her “the thing is, my wife and I kidnapped a baby, and he died this morning.” Later at home his wife curses him out, saying the girl will talk to the police. So Marcos watches some soccer, takes a family trip (with the family whose baby he kidnapped – talk about awkward), then visits Ana and kills her with a big knife. If he hadn’t planned how to kill her without being caught, and he spoke of turning himself into the police anyway, I can’t see why killing Ana is a good idea except maybe to relieve some sort of sexual tension. Sight & Sound doesn’t know either, admitting the film is “riddled with enigmas.”

An uncharacteristic shot:

Music at weird times – sweeping strings at the gas station, drum and horns after the sex scene. Sounds start to disappear. We see huge bells being rung in the rain, and we hear the rain but not the bells. There’s some religious business at the end, as Marcos wears a hood and shuffles into a church on his knees, to presumably die from blood loss at some time before the police enter the building.


Director in interview: “Some people even think that I’m obsessed with awkward sex or fat people.” Says he wants to create the film more through the editing than camerawork… I assume from what little I’ve heard about them that Japon and Silent Light are vice-versa.



With his 2005 flamethrower Battle in Heaven he connects our discomfort viewing graphic sex to a daring critique of a country’s complicity in a man’s frustrated social situation. Reygadas provokes—calmly, not thuggishly—our contempt for his film’s radical aesthetic patterns and explicit sexual nature, suggesting our anxiety with the text’s essential unconventionality is tantamount to racism, bodyism, and anti-artism.

Katy was surprised that Diego Luna used to be cuter than Gael Garcia Bernal.


Maribel Verdú (currently costarring in Tetro, also the rebel servant who befriends our girl in Pan’s Labyrinth) is the cousin who gets a ride to the beach with a rich kid and his not-rich friend while their girlfriends are away, has sex with them both, stays at the beach while they go home then dies of cancer a month later. Oh also the kids make out with each other while drunk, destroying their friendship.


Great cinematography by one of my favorites, Emmanuel Lubezki (The New World, Children of Men, Like Water for Chocolate). Oddly negative omniscient narrator fills us in on the gloomy details surrounding the characters. Really a lovely movie, despite my crappy summary.

Did anyone know it was illegal to be catholic in Mexico in the 1920’s and/or 30’s? That there was some kind of war going on? Thanks to my schooling history of dry, unengaging, U.S.-based history classes, I am barely aware that there is a country called Mexico, so my ignorance of its religious-political history can’t be surprising.

Elías lives with his mom and very pregnant wife, has seven kids and a leaky roof. Wife falls down fixing the roof, thinks her baby is dying, so asks Elías to fetch the preacher. Problem: the government has declared Catholicism illegal so getting a priest is risky. Now either the priest is leaving town, or he’s getting a group together to fight the gov’t, but Elías interferes and everyone (incl one of his sons) is killed. E. himself escapes but now everyone is mad at him so he grabs his newborn son, his newlydead wife and his remaining six kids and heads out to live all reclusive in the desert, building a church to atone for the killing of all those people.

Years pass! Youngest kid grows up sickly then gets better. A boy dies raising the church bell, two boys die of plague, and a girl goes mad and drowns herself looking for signs from god. Another boy visits his grandmother, who thinks he is Elías so he ends up living quietly with her and starting a family. The church is finished but Elías isn’t sure that he has been forgiven, frets about it and starts wrecking the church wall to rebuild it until he gets it right. Meanwhile, the two remaining kids, boy Aureliano and girl Micaela, start having sex with each other. She dies, father kills himself, Aureliano lives to narrate this movie in framing story.

Movie comes off as your standard prestige-pic, professionally made but without anything interesting to recommend it. It’s bummer city for the first half hour, then seems to go on forever and I’m thinking things will get better with the whole church-building, but tragedy and madness slowly follow until the movie dumps us off right back in bummer city where we started. I mean I guess Aureliano is free now, but the death of his sexy sister puts a damper on that, and the thing with the brother taking his father’s place at gramma’s could be fascinating if it was given more than a minute of screen time. Surprised to hear that this swept the Mexican academy awards, leaving the AFF’s big-deal closing-night pic Rudo y Cursi empty-handed.

Even in a year of crazy films like The Wicker Man and Touki Bouki, ain’t nothing crazy enough to sit with The Holy Mountain. This was the last of Jodorowsky’s fully-realized features until Santa Sangre (nobody, AJ included, seems to like The Rainbow Thief or Tusk).

Third shot of movie: Director/Alchemist with women who will soon be shaved:

First half-hour is free-flowing. A Thief (who I didn’t realize never speaks) wanders with a deformed dwarf, getting beaten up and attending a toad-and-chameleon circus, while around them dissidents are executed, riot police hold a dead-animal parade, and priests pick up underage prostitutes. Finally the thief breaks into a mighty tower occupied by The Alchemist (Jodorowsky himself) who cleanses him, turns his shit into gold, and then introduces our other characters and their corresponding planets:
– Fon/Venus – narcissist who runs fashion & cosmetic companies, slave to his dad
– Isla/Mars – major arms manufacturer
– Klen/Jupiter – sex-obsessed artist
– Sel/Saturn – makes war toys to prejudice kids vs. countries we plan to invade
– Berg/Uranus – murderous bureaucrat
– Axon/Neptune – ruthless mohawked police chief with testicle collection
– Lut/Pluto – futuristic architect, designing sleep-chamber apartments
(I had to look some of those up – movie is sensory overload, I forgot stuff)

Three chameleons prepare to defend Mexico from the toad invasion:

Kind of a Jesus/disciples thing, but is the Thief Jesus or is the Alchemist? They go through intensive spiritual training, then Alchemist leads them to the Holy Mountain atop which nine ancient immortals control our planet, with the goal of deposing them and becoming immortal themselves. Each traveler has a dream of their own bizarre death, but they continue to the table at the summit, where they find dolls in the seats. Sitting down, camera pulls back to reveal Jodorowsky’s lighting and sound crew, and he proclaims the truth: “We are images, dreams, photographs,” freeing them from the film itself.

Atop The Holy Mountain:

Haven’t checked out the commentary yet (tried to listen at work, but of course it’s in Spanish), but in a modern interview online, Jodorowsky says he never killed animals for his movies – not even the rabbits in El Topo. That’s surprising, but I’ll take the guy at his word. He also says he became a feminist during the making of Holy Mountain, and indeed it’s hard to think of movies less feminist than his previous two. He’s a fan of Lynch, Cronenberg and Starship Troopers, and I wish him luck with his long-delayed Lynch-produced next movie.

Alchemist & Thief in chamber of mirrors:

Cinematographer Rafael Corkidi shot The Mansion of Madness the same year. A few of the actors have popped up elsewhere… Lut/Pluto had a small part in The Exterminating Angel, Axon/Neptune was an Oliver Stone collaborator throughout the 90’s, and Fon/Venus plays the lead girl’s dad on the show Rebelde.

Our director:

After Calvaire and Frontier(s), it’s the third movie this week with a hair-shaving scene.

Feels appropriate that I watched this over the course of a week, since it’s pretty episodic. Apparently (according to scraps of the commentary track that I checked out) it’s about the gradual enlightenment of Jodorowsky’s title character. The dude could use some enlightenment, too, what with his woman issues, his murderous obsessions, his strange attraction to people with deformities, and his tendency to kill animals on-camera.

El Topo, riding across the desert dressed in black, abandons his son in favor of some woman. The woman demands he prove himself by defeating the four gun masters of the desert. Somewhere along the way they pick up an evil hot woman who talks like a man and I don’t know what that’s about. Anyway, Topo tricks and murders all four masters: blind guy; digs a hole in front of him, fall, fire… guy who always hits heart; ash tray in front of heart… guy who lives for love; distract him by crippling his wife… and crazy guy with no possessions, no gun, nothing; shoots himself to prove he has left no material desires!

Okay, but woman leaves him for the other woman, and they shoot him all up on a rickety bridge (give him the five wounds of christ, as a.j. immodestly explains on the commentary), then some mutants drag him into a hole, the end.

No! He wakes up 30 years later all white-bearded. The cripples and deformed have kept him alive as a god, and now he must leave the cave, go to the town and get help so they can all be free. Of course he does this by bringing a short woman with him and performing awful vaudeville routines for money to afford dynamite. Long story short, they free the cripples, the townsfolk mow them all down, and Topo duels his now grown son.

I had not-great memories of this one… remember most of it taking place inside the mountain (hardly any of it does!) and the picture and sound being bad, bad bad. New DVD looks miraculous… the desert sky so bright and blue. Movie not nearly as dull and drab as I remember it (and as recent restoration reviews have been saying), it’s totally watchable, and its horrible weirdness makes it worth watching.

Is it a GOOD movie then? Well it’s got some style (love the bridge scene, the rides through the desert) and it’s weird enough to recommend (most movies could stand to be weirder). I liked it more than I didn’t, so yeah, why not?

No wonder lead actress Lumi Cavazos looked familiar – she played Inez in Bottle Rocket. And I guess her wannabe-boyfriend was in Cinema Paradiso. But the best IMDB revelation of all: this movie was directed by El Guapo himself!

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Tita has always loved Pedro, but Tita’s the youngest daughter of her overbearing and unloving mother, and therefore disallowed to marry as long as mom is alive. So Pedro marries the young sister (Nacha?) and the other sister (Gertrudis, actually an illicit half-sister) runs off naked with a rebel soldier when he shower catches fire, and eventually Tita finds a nice doctor and her mom dies.

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Meanwhile, Tita cooks for everyone, and whatever she’s cooking has magical effect on whoever eats it, transferring Tita’s moods and emotions on to them. Seems whimsical, but more than one person dies as a direct result.

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Finally the one sister dies and Tita can be with Pedro. Their one night together kills them both with heart attacks and fires, and I think that might be a happy ending. Anyway it’s a nice movie, if a bit too dark (in lighting not mood). All about tradition and true love and mexico.

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Katy liked it.

Skipping past twenty years, Las Hurdes, the Spanish Filmofono productions and a couple other Mexican movies… to Los Olvidados. I understood that this was one of the pre-60’s movies that Bunuel had the most control over.

Realist drama about a kid named Pedro whose mother barely loves him, if at all, and his friends, thug Jaibo and innocent Big Eyes. When there isn’t violence in a scene, there’s the threat of violence. Even Big Eyes and the little girl pick up a rock or stick and hold it up as if to bash someone’s brains out at one point, then pull back. Jaibo doesn’t pull back, killing a former friend (who supposedly sent him to jail) at the beginning. His crimes catch up with Jaibo, but Pedro’s poverty and lack of parenting and bad associations catch up with him as well.

Well-made movie. Echos of Salaam Bombay (seen a month ago) but with less positivity. Katy liked it pretty well, but watched the clock more than the screen.