Thursday, December 06, 2012

Simon of the Desert

Directed by Luis Bunuel and written by Bunuel and Julio Alejandro, Simon del desierto (Simon of the Desert) is loose interpretation of 5th Century Syrian saint Simeon Stylites who lived on top of a column for 39 years. In this film, it’s a story about a man seeking to prove to God his devotion to him as he faces temptation from the devil as he lives in this land for 6 years, 6 weeks, and 6 days. Starring Claudio Brook and Silvia Pinal. Simon del desierto is a strange yet mesmerizing film from Luis Bunuel.

The film is essentially the story of a man named Simon (Claudio Brook) who has stood on top of a column for six years, six weeks, and six days as he’s being moved to much bigger column to stand on to continue his servitude for God. While standing on this taller column as he’s often met by priests, a dwarf goat herder, and his mother as they watch him bless his surroundings. He’s being tempted by Satan himself in the form of a beautiful woman (Silvia Pinal) as he deals with all sorts of things that would challenge his devotion to God. In turn, he becomes very detached to the world around him as he faces criticism from those who look at him from the earth.

The screenplay by Luis Bunuel and Julia Alejandro is the story of how faith and devotion can overwhelm someone who becomes out of touch with the world of around him. While he has his devotees in priests and people seeking to be blessed and gain some miracle. What Simon doesn’t know is that the people’s he’s blessing aren’t exactly good people. A young priest tries to get blessed by Simon for selfish reasons while there’s a dwarf goat herder who feels that Simon is neglecting him. The priests around him think of Simon as some sort of God-like figure but it adds to Simon’s doubts about his role and the fact that he thinks of himself as unworthy of God’s love. Then there’s Satan who comes in the form of a woman in three different personas as she would often tempt Simon any way she can. Even by possessing a priest in order to get his attention as she would do whatever to get him down from this pillar.

Bunuel’s direction is filled with amazing imagery as the film is largely set in Mexico where Bunuel was making his films at that time. Through the landscape of the Mexican desert, it is a film that is set in a world that is seemingly detached by its surroundings. There’s people who would walk miles to come to Simon but the reaction ends up being disappointing as they would walk back. Bunuel’s use of close-ups and wide crane shots allows the film to be big and full of life. Even in the way he places his actors in a frame to create these images that is about faith and devotion. Bunuel also places the camera on the ground in order to get a point of view from those below including Satan who would do whatever to tempt Simon.

The direction has Bunuel maintain that air of surrealism that he’s known for scenes involving Satan where Satan disguises himself as a schoolgirl wearing racy clothing, a sheepherder claiming to be Jesus Christ, or arriving via casket as a woman in a toga. Satan’s appearances is often filled with an element of craziness but there’s something that is very grounding for the way Satan speaks about man’s plight and the fact that miracles doesn’t necessarily bring happiness no matter how horrible man’s situation is going. The film spends most of its time in the desert and then, Bunuel creates something that is very abrupt where it plays to something that is more relevant to a modern audience. Overall, Bunuel creates a very fascinating yet intriguing film about faith and humanity.

Cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white cinematography to capture the stark imagery that is created for the film from the robes of the priests to the vast landscape of the Mexican desert. Editor Carlos Savage does wonderful work by creating unique cuts to capture the reaction of the people as well as to establish Simon‘s plight. Production designer Jesus Bracho does nice work with the minimal set pieces created such as the home of Simon‘s mother nearby the pillar that Simon is standing on.

The sound work of James L. Fields is terrific for the sparseness that is needed in the desert location to maintain that sense of intimacy for its smaller moments. The film’s music by Raul Lavista is excellent for its mixture of low-key orchestral pieces to ominous cadence drum themes to establish Simon’s detachment from the world.

The film’s ensemble consists of some memorable small roles from Enrique Alvarez Felix as the young priest, Francisco Reiquera as an old witch Satan plays, and Hortensia Santovena as Simon’s mother who tries to get his attention from the ground. Silvia Pinal is incredible as Satan in the way she tempts Simon in every way from posting as a seductive schoolgirl, Jesus Christ as a sheep herder, and a woman in a toga. Pinal’s performance is just full of life as well being someone who is more connected to humanity including in its final moments. Finally, there’s Claudio Brook in a superb performance as Simon as a man who is devoted to God but finds himself in such conflict with himself as he becomes detached with the world around him.

Simon del desierto is a provocative yet exhilarating film from Luis Bunuel that explores the world of faith and devotion. Featuring marvelous performances from Claudio Brook and Silvia Pinal, it’s a film that truly reveals some of faith’s fallacies as well as the detachment a man faces in his desire to prove his devotion to God. In the end, Simon del desierto is a remarkable film from Luis Bunuel.

Luis Bunuel Films: Un Chien Andalou - L’Age d’Or - Land Without Bread - (Gran Casino) - (The Great Madcap) - Los Olvidados - (Susana) - (La hija del engano) - (Mexican Bus Ride) - (A Woman Without Love) - (El Bruto) - (El) - (Illusion Travels by Streetcar) - (Wuthering Heights (1954 film)) - Robinson Crusoe (1954 film) - (The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz) - (El rio y la muerte) - (Cela s’appelle l’aurore) - (Death in the Garden) - (Nazarin) - (La Fievre Monte a El Pao) - (The Young One) - Viridiana - The Exterminating Angel - Diary of a Chambermaid - Belle de Jour - (The Milky Way) - Tristana - The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie - (The Phantom of Liberty) - (That Obscure Object of Desire)

© thevoid99 2012

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