Luis Buñuel

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Luis Buñuel, 1968

Luis Buñuel Portolés (born February 22, 1900 in Calanda , Spain , † July 29, 1983 in Mexico City , Mexico ) was a Mexican filmmaker of Spanish origin who became known as a surrealist director towards the end of the silent film era . He is one of the most important film directors of the 20th century . Buñuel worked with Salvador Dalí and the Paris surrealist group around André Breton and Meret Oppenheimtogether. The best-known work from this period is the film Un chien andalou ( An Andalusian Dog ) from 1929. One of the central themes of his films is the struggle against a bourgeoisie frozen in pointless repetition, such as in Der Würgeengel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie .

life and work

childhood and education


Luis Buñuel was born in the village of Calanda in Aragon, Spain, as the oldest of seven children, but grew up mainly in Zaragoza . His father was the landowner Leonardo Buñuel, his mother Maria Portoles, the daughter of a wealthy innkeeper. In his autobiography he described the society of his hometown as rigid and characterized by class differences. Under the care of his uncle, who was a priest , he gained insight into the French and Latin languages ​​as a boy. He was also an altar boy and sang in the church choir.

Buñuel entered the Jesuit school Colegio del Salvador in Saragossa in 1907 , of which he later had no bad memories, despite its strictness and archaic customs. In 1915 he switched to a state high school. After graduating from high school in 1917, on the recommendation of Senator Don Bertolomé Esteban, he was accepted into the now famous Madrid student residence , where he began studying engineering at the request of his father. When he found out that Spanish lecturers were being sought abroad for various humanities , he switched subjects and now studied literature , philosophy and history . During his student days he was among other things withGarcía Lorca and Salvador Dalí known. In 1923 he dealt with the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud for the first time .

When a new organization of the League of Nations called Societé internationale de cooperation intellectuelle was to be founded in Paris in 1925 , Buñuel applied for a secretary position, which he was ultimately awarded. During his time in Paris, he first got the idea of ​​making films himself. He was influenced by Sergei Eisenstein's armored cruiser Potemkin , Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's The Last Man and, above all, the film The tired death by Fritz Lang . In 1926 Buñuel enrolled for a course at Jean Epstein's drama school Académie du Cinéma one. When he had missed the chance to get a small role in one of Epstein's films, he offered himself a little later for auxiliary work during the filming of Mauprat . Here he made the acquaintance of the cameraman Albert Duverger, gained insights into the technical realization of films and even took part in a few stunts .

Contact with surrealism

It was in Paris that Buñuel first came into contact with surrealism , whose supporters cultivated the provocative anti-bourgeois scandal. His inclination towards the world of the irrational and the dream as well as some publications in the magazine La Révolution surréaliste (The Surrealist Revolution) made him more and more attracted to this seditious art movement.

During a stay in Spain in 1928 he was made various offers to direct a few smaller films, for which he also wrote screenplays; however, they were never realized. In 1929 he made his first film, An Andalusian Dog (Un Chien Andalou) . The work arose from the idea of ​​Buñuel and his friend Salvador Dalí to create a film out of two dreams. They wrote the script using the method of automatic writing (écriture automatique ) within a week. Their intention was to create a film that should not symbolize anything and allow no logical explanation. After an Andalusian dogwas shot within just two weeks (mostly in a Paris studio), Buñuel presented his work to the surrealists Man Ray and Louis Aragon , who immediately became enthusiastic about it. After the first public performance, which was a great success, Buñuel was accepted into the French surrealist group around André Breton .

Shortly afterwards, however, he got into trouble with the group, who seemed suspicious that such a provocative film was always sold out. Since Buñuel had offered the script to the bourgeois Revue du Cinéma and not - as suggested by Paul Éluard - the Belgian variétés, the surrealist group held a downright trial against him. He had to undertake to destroy the lead type with a hammer. When it turned out that the magazine was already printed, he had to write a letter of protest to ten Parisian newspapers, in which he declared that he had been a victim of a machination. On top of that he wrote a prologue for Variétés,in which he claimed that in his eyes the film was "nothing more than a call to murder".

A few months later he began work on his second film, which he called The Golden Age (L'Âge d'Or) . Originally, the script was supposed to be written together with Salvador Dalí again. However, since the two disagreed on many issues, they separated. Buñuel wrote the script alone and only incorporated some of Dalí's ideas into the film, which Dalí had sent him by letter. The one-hour work was first performed publicly in 1930 and caused a tangible scandal. In his film, Buñuel tells the story of two lovers who throw off any ecclesiastical and civic fetters and only seek to get together. Some of the images shocked the audience and attacked the values ​​of the bourgeoisie criticized by Buñueland Christianity . The scenes show, for example, skeleton clergy or a father who shoots his son with a hunting rifle. After the first performances, right-wing groups like the League of Patriots began throwing bags of paint on canvases and destroying surrealistic images. The Golden Age was unceremoniously banned by Police Prefect Chiappe to maintain peace . The surrealists, however, cheered the work.

America and Spain

In 1930 Buñuel accepted an offer from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to go to the USA and familiarize himself with the film technology there. In America he learned a. a. Know Charlie Chaplin . After some interesting insights into Hollywood work, he returned to Europe in 1931, where he shot his third film in Spain in 1933, the documentary Las Hurdes - Land Without Bread . Since he reproduced and staged the bitter poverty in a hopeless area, in the Comarca Las Hurdes in Extremadura , in the style of a travel documentary, the film was banned in Spain.

In 1934 Buñuel was appointed head of the Madrid Warner Brothers dubbing department and also produced various films such as Don Quintín el Amargao and La Hija de Juan Simón, which were very successful commercially. His third job as a producer, the tragic film Quién Me Quiere a Mi, fell through. The Spanish Civil War , which broke out soon after, hampered film work in the following years. The times of war in Spain and Europe were to prevent Buñuel from continuing to direct for years. In 1934 he married the French Jeanne Rucar. On November 9, 1934, his son Juan Luis Buñuel was born in Paris born who later also worked as a film director.

When the civil war broke out, he was summoned to Geneva , where he was advised to support the new Spanish ambassador in Paris. He stayed in the French capital until the end of the civil war; he had u. a. the job of collecting Republican propaganda films.

In 1939 Buñuel went back to the USA to work as a technical advisor in the civil war film Cargo of Innocence . When he found no further employment in Hollywood after that, he moved to New York in 1940 , where he got a job at the Museum of Modern Art on the recommendation of the British film critic Iris Barry ; there he was involved in projects about the Second World War. In 1942, a representative of Catholicism ensured that he was dismissed after Salvador Dalí identified him as a communist and atheist in his book “The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí”had designated. This event led to the final break with Dalí. In 1944 he was employed by Warner Brothers; he took care of Spanish versions of Hollywood films there.


In 1946 Buñuel received offers from Mexico. It was his most productive period, he made 20 films there. The first was called Gran Casino , but it had little success and left Buñuel almost penniless. In 1949 - the year he became a Mexican citizen - Buñuel made the film El gran calavera ( The Big Bon vivant ), which made money again. Then he was able to tackle the project Los olvidados ( The Forgotten ) together with the producer Óscar Dancigers . The pessimistic mood of the work was responsible for the fact that the film was heavily criticized by the Mexican media and even demanded that the director be expelled. As Los olvidadosHowever, it was successful in Europe (Buñuel received the award for best director at the Cannes Film Festival ), the attacks subsided.

This was followed by the films Susanna (1950), La hija del engaño (The Daughter of Lies - 1951), Una mujer sin amor (A woman without love - 1951), Subida al cielo and Robinsón Crusoe . In 1952, Él was made, a work that told the story of a paranoid - Buñuel later called this one of his favorite films. In the following years he shot other masterpieces such as Ensayo de un crimen ( The criminal life of Archibaldo de la Cruz - 1955) or Nazarín (1958). The latter received the Grand International Film Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959 .

More work

In 1960 Luis Buñuel returned to Spain. The producer Gustavo Alatriste had promised him complete freedom in film work, whereupon Buñuel developed a script to his own taste. The result was Viridiana , a film about a Spanish nun who offers shelter to those in need on a manor. The protagonist's endeavors, however, end with orgiastic and destructive debauchery on the part of the beneficiaries and make them fail. Because he was filming in the Madrid of the Franco regime , Buñuel experienced hostility from republican exiles. However, the huge scandal that Viridiana caused in Spain because of the subject smoothed these waves. At the Cannes Film FestivalBuñuel's work received the Palme d'Or in 1961 , while the Spanish Minister of Information issued a nationwide ban.

Luis Buñuel, bust by the sculptor Iñaki in the Centro Buñuel Calanda

In 1962, El ángel exterminador ( The Strangler ), a surreal parable , was written in Mexico . It is about an evening party whose visitors for inexplicable reasons cannot leave the house. When they manage to escape in the end, they visit the church for a thanksgiving service - and now the game of being trapped in the church is repeated. Simon in the Desert, his last Mexican film, lasts only 43 minutes. The producer ran out of money while filming. In 1966 he filmed Belle de Jour in France based on a novel by Joseph Kessel and with Catherine DeneuveIn the main role. This film became one of his most commercially successful works.

After La voie lactée ( The Milky Way , 1969) and Tristana, followed in 1972 The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie , in which he again increasingly used surrealist elements and attacked the bourgeoisie. For this he received the Oscar for best foreign language film in 1973 . In Das Gespenst der Freiheit , a work composed of a series of episodes, he once again targeted the bourgeois world. Buñuel later referred to the films The Specter of Freedom, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Milky Way as a kind of trilogy, in which the search for truth, the mysterious, chance and personal moral concepts are thematically central.

After that, he actually wanted to stop filmmaking. However, friends persuaded him to take on the film adaptation of the novel La femme et le pantin by Pierre Louÿs in 1977 . The work is called This Obscure Object of Desire and is about the amour fou of an aging man ( Fernando Rey ) to a younger woman - a recurring theme in his films. Curiously, this woman is played by two actresses who are completely different in type ( Carole Bouquet , Ángela Molina ).

In 1982 he published his memoirs Mon dernier soupir (My last sigh), written by Jean-Claude Carrière . Luis Buñuel died the following year, probably as a result of cirrhosis of the liver .

Film historical classification

Luis Buñuel is considered to be one of the most outstanding directors of the 20th century. An Andalusian dog, and especially The Golden Age, are considered to be the most important works of surrealist film. Dreams and nightmares, both essential elements of surreal art, have always fascinated him. He himself once said that if he could make it possible, he would pursue active life for two hours a day and spend the rest in dreams. Buñuel often built dream-like or puzzling situations into his films, even if they didn't necessarily advance the plot. In Die Vergessenen , for example, he wanted an orchestra playing for no particular reasonshow up in a shot. However, the producer of the film prevented the project.

An Andalusian dog emerged primarily from two dreams . The film shouldn't allow any rational explanation. It does not offer a meaningful explanation, but shows images that should develop their effect on the viewer's unconscious . Nevertheless, this did not prevent a large number of viewers from repeatedly looking for and finding symbols in it. In many cases, Buñuel took puzzling hopelessness as an issue, such as a compelling but unfulfillable desire for a particular person. Many of the film titles are indicative of Buñuel's means of expression, such as: B. The strangling angelwhose title has nothing to do with the content. He only chose the name because he assumed that it would make the film more interesting.

Criticism of the bourgeoisie and Christianity was one of the most important aspects of his cinematic work . Buñuel doubted that Christian values ​​could be realized in a demoralizing environment. To express this criticism, he often violated taboos and provided a large number of his works with shocking and apparently blasphemous images. Without defusing them, the effect of these images is broken by a profound, surrealistic humor. Brutality or clumsy showmanship were alien to him and his films.

In his biography (translated into German under the title "My Last Sigh") he describes his life, his "worldview" and the events of his life, which he has processed on film.


“The world is getting more and more absurd. Only I am still a Catholic and an atheist . Thank God!"

- Luis Buñuel




  • 1929: An Andalusian Dog (Un chien andalou) - short film
  • 1933: Las Hurdes - Land Without Bread (Las Hurdes - Tierra sin pan) - short film
  • 1935: Don Quintín, the embittered (Don Quintín el amargao)
  • 1935: Juan Simon's Daughter (La hija de Juan Simón)
  • 1936: Who Loves Me? (¿Quién me quiere a mí?)
  • 1936: The watchful guard (¡Centinela alerta!)
  • 1937: Spain to arms (España leal en armas) - Buñuel had overall management
  • 1970: Tristana


  • 1926: Mauprat
  • 1926: Carmen
  • 1929: An Andalusian Dog (Un chien andalou) - short film
  • 1930: The Golden Age (L'âge d'or)
  • 1935: La hija de Juan Simón
  • 1964: Cordoba (Llanto por un bandido)
  • 1965: En este pueblo no hay ladrones

Awards (selection)

In addition, Buñuel's directorial work, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, won an Oscar in 1973 for its French contribution in the category of Best Foreign Language Film . Tristana (1971 for Spain) and This Obscure Object of Desire (1978 for Spain) were nominated for the same award.


  • Luis Buñuel: My last sigh. Memories. Translated from the French by Frieda Grafe and Enno Patalas . Athenaeum, Königstein im Taunus 1983, ISBN 3-7610-8266-5 (further editions in the publishing houses Volk und Welt, Ullstein and finally, without the previously attached 16-page special section with photographs, in the Alexander-Verlag, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3 -89581-112-2 ).
  • Luis Buñuel, Max Aub : The erotic and other ghosts. Non-desolate conversations. Translated by Barbara Böhm. Wagenbach, Berlin 1986; expanded 1992, reprint 2002, ISBN 3-8031-2459-X .
  • Luis Buñuel: The spots of the giraffe. Incursions and raids. Translated by Fritz Rudolf Fries and Gerda Schattenberg. Wagenbach, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-8031-3558-3 .
  • Luis Buñuel: “If there is a God, then I should be hit by lightning on the spot.” Edited by Carlos Rincón. Translated by Fritz Rudolf Fries, Gerda Schattenberg. Wagenbach, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-8031-1146-3 .

Secondary literature


  • The discreet charm of Luis Buñuel (original title: Dans l'oeil de Luis Buñuel). Documentary, France, 2013, 54 min., Script and director: François Lévy-Kuentz, production: KUIV Productions, arte France, German first broadcast: July 1, 2013 on arte, synopsis by ARD .
  • The final script. Memories of Luis Buñuel (Original title: El último guión - Buñuel en la memoria). Documentary, Spain, Germany, France, 2008, 45 min., Script and direction: Javier Espada and Gaizka Urresti, production: Imval Producciones, German first broadcast: February 18, 2008, 11:10 p.m. on 3sat , series: Der Zauber des Surrealen - Luis Buñuel and the consequences, summary of 3sat.

Web links

Commons : Luis Buñuel  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Michael Schwarze: Buñuel. 1981, p. 8 f.
  2. Luis Buñuel: My last sigh. 1983 p. 98 f.
  3. Simon in the desert ( Memento from May 2, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) on arte