Wuthering Heights (Mexico, 1954):
(Abismos de Pasión; Cumbres Borrascosas)

Sex and death have shared the same bed in Luis Buñuel's work ever since a cut braided male hands feeling up a woman's tits to the groper's decaying mask of death in Un Chien Andalou. The surrealists rediscovered the fevered passion of Heathcliff and Cathy as the locus classicus of l'amour fou around that time, though the director couldn't adapt Emily Brontë's great gothic novel to the screen until decades later. Arguably the most prestigious source material Buñuel ever worked from, the story gets tricked out to fit his richly subversive shoestring sojourn in Mexico -- thunderclaps act as exclamation points while curtains throb in the wind, and bourgeois lunk Eduardo (Ernesto Alonso) is introduced, naturally, pinning the latest additions into his butterfly collection. Alejandro (Jorge Minstral) returns to the ranch that took him in as a child only to find Catalina (Irasema Dilián), his adopted sister and one true love, married off to Eduardo. When not taking revenge on Catalina's brother Ricardo (Luis Aceves Castañeda), now a ruined, drunken gambler, Alejandro nurses his undying passion for his beloved, further fanning the flames by marrying Isabel (Lilia Prado), Eduardo's young sister. While Brontë's grid of anguished ardor got neutered by pusillanimous class in William Wyler's Hollywood version, Buñuel goes straight for the jugular and locates tremulous Latin melodrama amid desiccated trees and arid mountaintops -- the characters' fervid emotionalism serves as both a response against death and an equally intense stimulus towards it. It's no coincidence, then, that Buñuel brings back the Liebestod strains from L'Age d'Or for the stunning finale, which mates the two impulses -- the bereft Alejandro violates Catalina's tomb and "sees" her ghostly image, white-draped and arms ardently outstretched, morph into Ricardo's shotgun blast to the face. A sublime culmination, and a reminder of just how close Eros bleeds to Thanatos in Buñuel's abyss of passion. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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