Susana (Luis Buñuel / Mexico, 1951):
(Carne y Demonio; The Devil and the Flesh)

God works in mysterious ways in Luis Buñuel's rousing hacienda operetta -- the eponymous hellion (Rosita Quintana) is tossed kicking and screaming into a reformatory cell full of rats and bats, spots the director's Dreyer spoof in a cross-shaped shadow reflected on the floor, cries for compassion ("You made me the way I am") and is thus granted a miracle as the window bars come loose in her hands. The downpour outside is scarcely purifying, for she's next seen, in a shot repeated from Los Olvidados, soaked by the window of the nearby ranch; virtuous Doña Matilde Palou brings her inside, but a slow pan over the unconscious fugitive's mud-caked legs, illustrating the interested gaze of both rich owner Fernando Soler and bookish son Luis López Somoza, marks it as a very bad idea. Susana is a name for chaste beauty, according to studious Somoza, though to María Gentil Arcos, the house-running Bible-thumper, she's closer to Satan, or, in her provocatively bare-shouldered slinking as the new servant, at least to the Darnell-Grahame Hollywood Magdalene mode. The full-throttle mélo of the opening is hard to top, but Buñuel keeps the heated tempo steadily rising with shot after subversive shot -- a well houses a secret rendezvous, the patriarch inhales the woman's scent, smuggled with him in handkerchiefs, and Quintana's thighs are smeared with runny yolk after ranch hand randy Víctor Manuel Mendoza presses her (and her basket of eggs) against his bosom. Censors didn't get the onanistic joke whipped around the polishing of glass panes and shotguns, but the story (supposedly a goof on the lurid 1929 potboiler The Squall, with dashes of Freud) didn't really need them to neuter its own inquiries into the instability of family order: cracks into the structure are opened by the heroine's passion only to be papered back up for the closing credits by "the pure truth of God." Morning brings a reactionarily dawning sun, yet not before Buñuel's sneaky, inside-job handling has colored restored-bourgeois platitudes ludicrous with imploding irony. With Rafael Icardo. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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