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Thursday, 15 January 2009

Susana (1951)

Despite being one of my favourite directors, I've written very little about Luis Bunuel recently, probably because I've known and loved his European output for so long and because there is so rarely an opportunity to view the mixed bag of films that he churned out during his "lost" years in Mexico. He left Spain after the Civil War, not for political reasons, but because work had dried up. After some years in the U.S. during which time he made no films, he settled in Mexico in the late 40s, became a citizen, and only returned to Spain at Franco's request in 1961 -- after which most of his greatest films emerged (if one puts his early youthful surrealist efforts with Dali into a box of their own). This is not to say that his Mexican sojourn was fallow, since it produced masterpieces like "Los Olvidados", "El", "...Archibaldo de la Cruz", and "Nazarin", but for much of the time he took whatever work was available, most often on low budget movies, with variable results.



It is still difficult to track down his Mexican output, but I am ever on the trail. "Susana" was one of the earliest, and he both wrote and directed this very minor outing. It is hard to label it anything other than an overheated melodrama, but it is not without interest and in many ways seems a forerunner of greater things to come. Rosita Quintana plays a delinquent sexpot who has escaped from a grim reformatory and who lands up in the driving rain at the plantation of a rich landowner. Taken in by the family and kindly treated, she deliberately sets out to seduce their student son, the macho foreman, and ultimately the father himself, setting herself on a collision course with his dutiful wife and her cheeky and suspicious housekeeper. By the end of the movie she is back in detention and the household is once again in harmony, almost as if nothing has transpired. However, underneath this surface one can sense Bunuel's belief that outside forces can so easily disrupt the taken-for-granted order of things and that happiness is a very delicate balance between temptation and duty.
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