Thursday, September 22, 2005

Simon of the Desert (Bunuel, 1965)

He stands atop a stone tower overlooking a small village. For over six years, he has remained there, separating himself from any sort of worldly pleasure in order to demonstrate his steadfast devotion to Christ. Although there are those who see him as an inspiration, an example of religious purity, Simon regards himself as a sinner. Others take him for granted, regarding him as a kind of spiritual sideshow, despite the fact that the miracles he performs are real. Indeed, Simon is noteworthy enough to receive several surprise visits from Satan who appears in the guise of an attractive young woman that sings seductively and bares her breasts. With Simon of the Desert, Luis Bunuel, offers a provocative and humorous commentary on the divide between uncompromising religious devotion and the ordinary realities of humankind’s earthly existence.

Having literally placed himself on a pedestal, Simon naturally receives not only praise, but also his fair share of contempt. After Simon scolds a young clergyman for being distracted from his prayers by a beautiful woman, he returns later to tell the ascetic that despite the fact his religious commitment has lasted the better part of a decade, this masochistic version of spirituality has no bearing on the material world that God has presumably designed for mankind. What good is it to prostrate oneself before a rigid set of rules when it consequently denies the experience of life? In the end, Bunuel provides Simon with one final stirring vision that effectively puts all of his suffering and fasting into perspective. It is a jarring, yet witty, capper to this delightfully pure expression of Bunuel’s pet themes. Despite being only a one-acter, it surely ranks amongst his best work.



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