Simon of the Desert (Luis Buñuel / Mexico, 1965):
(Simón del Desierto)

The starting point is the asceticism of Simeon Stylites, the punchline nods to García Lorca’s Poet in New York ("No es el infierno, es la calle"); in between, Luis Buñuel tells one of his most caustic, most tender jokes. The holy fool literally puts his modesty on a pedestal, Simón (Claudio Brook) prays and fasts atop his column, eyeing the heavens: "How long before I am worthy of Thee?" Among the worshipers below is a thief with severed hands -- Simón makes him whole again, the man uses the new knuckles to shove his daughter, the folks who came for a miracle are not impressed. The young priest bouncing around the desert is ultimately banished for being beardless, the dwarf shepherd is close enough to the earth to fondle his goat’s teats, both men "hear the Devil at night." For a brief moment Simón wonders whether his faith frees him or enslaves him, his single indecency is to dream of being able to feel the dirt under his feet; later, having already blessed a fly, he digs a morsel of food out of his mouth ("Besides being a spiritual exercise, blessing is good fun, too"). Like Mary, his mother is relegated to the sidelines, only here she pauses mid-prayer to cover up an anthill. Satan (Silvia Pinal) materializes to tempt him, first as a Goldilocks with garter belts under her schoolgirl skirt, then as a bogus Savior in tunic, whiskers, and ringlets, finally as a plump Venus rising out of a scuttling casket. Buñuel dollies in to reframe Simón as he gently wipes his eye in the middle of a sermon, then later dollies out to reveal the possessed monk about to begin frothing, and no simpler or more expressive camerawork can be imagined. Far from mocking his penitent protagonist, Buñuel values his tenacity of belief even while seeing his sacrifice as a useless monument. He builds, sublimely, to a jibe at Kierkegaard (and H.G. Wells), with the saint leased out of his pillar and an invitation to the dance. With Enrique Álvarez Felix, Hortensia Santoveña, Luis Aceves Castañeda, and Enrique del Castillo. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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