Death in the Garden (Luis Buñuel / France-Mexico, 1956):
(La Mort en ce Jardin; Evil Eden; Diamond Hunters)

Civilization and nature like fire and frying pan for Luis Buñuel, "un bon voyage ensemble." He opens in a mining pit with lunchtime interrupted by fascist news, the government in the unnamed Latin nation has helped itself to the laborers' claims and revolt simmers. Between soldiers and protesters arrives the loutish adventurer (Georges Marchal) with middle finger extended (Aldrich's Vera Cruz, Fleischer's Bandido), he grabs a spot on the bed of the wannabe madam (Simone Signoret) and finds himself in a cell waiting for a firing squad. (His escape is a quick, sardonic marvel: He notices the priest's ink-stained fingers and asks to jot down his confessions, the fountain pen that arrives is soon in the jailer's eyeball.) The old prospector (Charles Vanel) and his deaf-mute daughter (Michèle Girardon), the riverboat pimp (Tito Junco) and the staid missionary (Michel Piccoli), into the thickest greenery with them all. "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita..." The first half is a reminder of Buñuel's admiration for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre while the second half, splendidly scored to squeaking birdcalls and simian chattering, amply showcases his improvements on it. Sometimes the best surrealism comes from shooting the jungle straight on in Eastmancolor (red ants making a skinned serpent twist, a maiden's long blonde tresses caught on spiky branches), sometimes an incongruous insert does the trick (a bustling view of the Champs-Élysées at night freezes into a postcard and gets tossed into the bonfire). The miracle is a crashed airplane stocked with furs and jewels, the real treasure is a close-up of Piccoli with loosened collar under a heavy downpour: "It may be that hunger is making me delirious, but I'm obsessed with a story about soft-boiled eggs." The Exterminating Angel runs with the disintegration-restoration structure, Herzog's inspirations for Aguirre: The Wrath of God are visible throughout. Cinematography by Jorge Stahl Jr. With Raul Ramirez, Luis-Aceves Castañeda, and Jorge Martinez de Hoyos.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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