Nazarin (Luis Bunuel, 1959)

Nazarin is a priest, attempting to living a pure and honest life strictly according to Christian principles - but others only show him distrust and hatred, apart from the local prostitute...

Of Luis Bunuel’s Mexican period many major films have earned their recognition with Film History. Nazarin is without a doubt one of them. Winning the 1959 International prize at the Cannes festival this story of a defrocked priest trying to help and preach in a world of poverty, sickness, and injustice. As Jeffrey M. Anderson mentioned in his short and sweet review Bunuel’s Nazarin is very down to earth and his far from his surrealist cinematic approach. Anderson also highlights with his great knowledge of John Ford’s films, that Nazarin feels like Ford’s The Fugitive and was shot by the same cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. The later’s camera work is subtle, natural, dusty, highly filled with sumptuous camera movements that captures the arid exteriors and darkens the interiors.

Religion is a central theme in Bunuel’s filmography and his treatment has often criticized by subversive manner the subject and how sometimes messianic figures can be psychotic, illogic, and contrary to moral or common sense. His moral often permitted to his storytelling abilities to punch in the face of his subject without getting too much blame.

With Nazarin, Bunuel wants to pass a message that even the most good willed fellow can fail to help their peers. Every scene ends with Nazarin letting the people in a worse position that they were before he got there. He leaves the hotel and the prostitute he was helping put fire in his room and burned down the whole place, then the workers get into a fight after he left the field, and on and on. He doesn’t solve a problem and, in fact, he tries but never succeeds. This is subtle for Bunuel but it is like as if Bunuel has decided that humanity has failed religion and not the other way around.

Nazarin is a deep film filled with deep meanings and is one of the best from Luis Bunuel’s Mexican era along with his masterpiece Los Olvidados. The fans of the director are split in two groups; the lovers of the Mexican period and the lovers of the French surrealist era. I would be more inclined to rewatch his later films that are in the second group but the whole body of Bunuel’s work is way richer with his early Spanish films, his Mexican ones, and his comedic surrealist French films. Nazarin is a must see but way more sober than The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

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