Mexican Bus Ride (Mexico, 1952):
(Subida al Cielo)

Luis Buñuel's Mexican films of the '50s are pockmarked with barely repressed furies, yet this engagingly messy crowdpleaser, made in the jaunty-populist vein of El Gran Calavera and Illusion Travels by Streetcar, is arguably the closest he came to creating a vision of communal utopia. The setting is a tiny Mexican pueblo, where freshly wed Esteban Márquez is shanghaied mid-honeymoon by his brothers to see their dying mother (Paz Villegas). Knowing that her greedy brood is just waiting for her to croak to divvy up her loot, the old woman asks Márquez, her sole virtuous son, to find a lawyer to legitimize her will, which means steering the dilapidated town bus (manned by jolly sentimentalist Luis Aceves Castañeda) across mountains, rivers and woods. Getting there, as they say, is half the fun -- basing his screenplay on a flurry of real-life events, poet Manuel Altolaguirre crams the bus with raucous peasants, pompous businessmen, shifty politicians and, most notably, town vamp Lilia Prado, hell bent on straying Márquez from the good path. For all the scurrying about over stolen inheritances, Buñuel's world here is a remarkably, circularly harmonious one -- the hero's ailing mother is rhymed with the driver's vigorous one, just as the birth of a child is answered later by the death of another, both accepted unblinkingly as vital parts of the life cycle. Despite the churchless village's cheerfully pagan existence, however, the heavenly ascension of the picture's original title is continually present in the characters' awareness of enlightenment inherent in sex, partying, singing and a vintage Buñuel dream sequence of wilderness invading buses and fruit peels spiraling into umbilical cords. For the director, the link between the corporeal and the spiritual frees the body and, thus, the soul. With Víctor Pérez, Carmelita González, Roberto Cobo, Roberto Meyer, and Beatriz Ramos. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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