Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Milky Way - Buñuel (1969)

Pretty big leap here, across the spectrum and dimensions of the 2012 Sight & Sound poll.

But I do like it when things get weird, or edgy, a little passionate, with a unique voice, a solid point of view, and often a strong sense of the absurd. Where were we now?

The Milky Way (La voie lactée)
dir. Luis Buñuel. 1969, France.
Sight & Sound 2012: Critics' #894 / Directors' #322
New York Times movie review ... Criterion essay
OOP Criterion DVD from Amazon
No streaming...

The Milky Way trailer (1969)

"Hear me, all of you. This is dogma, the sole truth... Whoever strays from this dogma shall be declared a heretic."

The Milky Way is what we call the spiral galaxy that our solar system exists within. Its name comes from the outer spiral arm that's visible as a stream of stars because we're out here on the very edge. What we can observe in the night sky, though, is only explicable through reason and science. The earth is not the center of the solar system, nor of the galaxy, nor of the universe. So... apparently/supposedly, in olden Europe this stellar arc was known as the Way of Saint James and other names, including El Camino de Santiago. These in turn came from the old pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain - resting place of the apostle James. Which is where our duo of Hope/Crosby drifters are headed in this tour of heresy from Spanish surrealist master Luis Buñuel.

John and Peter, Smith and Jones... On their way from Paris to España and through multiple time periods, they encounter several religious figures, philosophies and heresies. As always, I can't claim to be any kind of expert - for example, on the history of European Catholicism and all its threads and conflicts. What do I know about the fight between Jansenists and Jesuits? Only what Buñuel tells me... during a 17th-century sword duel between predestination and free will (with our derelicts as seconds, arguing in parallel). I mean, yeah, I kinda get the whole transubstantiation deal, just don't ask me to compare & contrast with consubstantiation. But I now know that such an argument can end with hot coffee being thrown in a cop's face and a priest carted off (back?) to the asylum. At first I thought the forest worshippers were naked Pagans, then I was fairly sure they were actually Gnostics, but later I checked - and they were ultimately Priscillianists. Close enough?

Regardless, I can recognize Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Angel of Death. I'm not sure what it meant to show Mary encouraging Jesus not to shave when the one vagabond was telling a story of his own mother's advice about his trustworthy beard that might have gotten him some alms from the man with a cape (and a dwarf). I can understand what's going on when a firing squad executes the Pope, or a rosary on a branch is shot up by some stolen hunting rifles. But what to make of the Virgin Mary returning the restored rosary in person to the unitarian anti-Papist who just shot it, prompting yet another change of heart? The haughty maitre d' can talk a good doctrinal game, but does not act very Christ-like to the hungry hungry hobos. The heretic will face punishment from the Inquisition on principle, but the doubting Thomas within the Church hierarchy will submit instead. Why does the priest with the miracle of the wayward Carmelite nun bring a saber to a bedtime story? How Jesus walked might be an eternal mystery, although maybe not on the level of the Immaculate Conception or post-partum virginity. But a stolen Spanish ham will feed an empty belly.

At the end of the movie, after the whore (of Babylon?), some modern-day blind men literally find Jesus, who heals them. With sight restored, they ignore Jesus Himself telling a parable right there before them - Jesus in turn ignores their excited requests to be shown what everything is. I mean, they've heard of Jesus sure, but they've never seen white and black before. As the Savior and his disciples move on, the blind follow but cannot seem to cross a small ditch without probing around with their canes. This impediment of movement perhaps recalls Buñuel's early film The Exterminating Angel (1962, S&S #202). The Milky Way is the first in an informal trilogy, followed by The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972, S&S #183) and The Phantom of Liberty (1974, S&S #588). The last entry was always referenced as a precedent to the walkabout narrative structure of Linklater's Austin classic Slacker (1991).

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