Friday, March 30, 2007

The Milky Way

Directed by Luis Buñuel, 1969
Rated PG, 1 hr 45 mins

Reviews from Rotten Tomatoes
"More witty than Dogma and more aesthetically refined than the original Bedazzled, the film is affectionately irreverent and adventurous storytelling."

"This comical film will make any viewer question his beliefs -- from religious fanatic to rabid atheist."

"I doubt such an unrelenting challenge to the Christian faith, in both its substance and its expression, has ever been made in a more easygoing fashion."


One of Buñuel's least accessible films - even by his surrealist standards - The Milky Way exemplifies how the director was at odds with the Catholic Church over his entire film career. Sandwiched between Belle De Jour and Tristana, two films featuring a wantonly sexualised Catherine Deneuve, it takes unrelentingly intellectual and satirical pot-shots at Catholicism and the hypocrisy that Buñuel believed lay at the heart of the scriptures.

The film takes the form of a skewed road movie in which two tramps, Pierre (Frankeur) and Jean (Laurent) begin a pilgrimage on foot from Paris to a shrine located at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. This picaresque soon gives way to episodes in which the two protagonists encounter various conundrums prompted by events featured in the Catholic doctrines; including figures such as the Virgin Mary, Nuns performing a crucifixion, a Jansenist and Jesuit duelling, and Jesus Himself. [page break] Peppered with absurdist humour the film has moments of universal appeal and obvious amusement, for instance when Jesus is asked by Mary to provide more wine for a meal in the way only He can. Otherwise, much of the film is concerned with an intellectual tract on religious doctrines that the uninitiated will be at a loss to make sense of.

Later in his career, Buñuel placed the film in a triptych along with The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie and The Phantom Of Liberty, in that they contained similar themes and grammar. He likened their "search for truth, as well as the necessity of abandoning it as soon as you've found it" and their dealings with "essential mystery in all things, which must be maintained and respected," - a viewpoint which serves as an entry point into The Milky Way.

Despite its narrative digressions into obscure religious analysis, The Milky Way is a masterfully made film that amply explores Buñuel's chief preoccupations. More rewarding for those with a knowledge of Buñuel, or religious dogma, but preferably both.

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