To say that watching this 1930 film is a surreal experience is an understatement. To say that I hated all 60 minutes of it is an accurate statement. Rich Vicomtes should not give crazy, young Spaniards money and complete freedom to make art that is "exquisite and delicious." There’s a reason the Catholic Church threatened to excommunicate the de Noailles if they distributed this Luis Bunuel film: it’s just too absurdly raw.
Bunuel opens the film as a documentary, using footage from a 1912 film about the habits of scorpions. If only that were what this film was actually about! Bunuel moves from scorpions to chanting archbishops on a beach. Max Ernst plays a starving soldier who witnesses this act and then hurries to tell other starving soldiers that the Mallorcans (a Spanish island) have arrived. Evidently these Mallorcans are enemies, but because the soldiers are suffering from starvation they are too weak to fight. This isn’t good for the archbishops— we later see the Mallorcans laying a monument to celebrate the archbishops’ skeletal remains. Just as this celebration is taking place we hear amorous screams (yes, it is 1930). The couple is arrested, but the man is released after he shows documents revealing he’s a government official—and a real SOB who kicks dogs. The woman is the daughter of a marquis, who throws a crazy party where all kinds of strange (but evidently not noteworthy to the guests) things happen. A gamekeeper shoots his son over nothing but people continue to mingle. Later, the government official arrives and he and the woman get it on, with Wagner’s "Tristan and Isolde" playing in the background, in the garden. Somehow a concert conductor ends up in the arms of this woman and the official gets a phone call telling him that thousands have died because of his actions. He then goes to his apartment and throws an archbishop out a window. The film ends with the announcement that the Duc de Blangis (and Jesus) is to reemerge from a castle after 120 days of debauchery—Pier Paolo Pasolini references should be inserted here, but I didn’t like his film, either.
The film is most remembered for its shocking images, most notably the cow in the bed (see picture), a woman sucking the toe of a statue (image not included because so much could be inferred), and, of course, Jesus as a spent libertine on the castle drawbridge. These are all images I wish were easily forgotten—they are not.
So, what is this film about? Eroticism? Anti-authoritarianism? Anti-Catholicism? Bunuel said it was "a romantic film performed in full Surrealist frenzy." Okay, whatever you say Luis.