L’Age d’Or – Luis Bunuel - DVD – Alongside Un Chien Andalou (1929), L’Age d’Or (1930) is often upheld as the keystone surrealist film. Like, Un Chien Andalou it was a collaborative effort that, in addition to Dali (although Bunuel fell out with Dali during the film’s production), included several other surrealists. Max Ernst played ‘the leader of the bandits’ and Pierre Prévert (director and brother to the prolific surrealist poet and screenwriter Jacques Prevert) played ‘Pémen, the bandit abed’. To accompany the film’s release (and in the wake of the popular success of Un Chien Andalou – even though Bunuel was disappointed that people ‘liked’ the controversial first film, the surrealists were not going to pass up a platform for publicity) and as part of the Studio 28 brochure for the film’s launch, a collaborative text was published, in which the surrealists expanded and elaborated upon the film’s themes. The surrealists who contributed were: Maxime Alexandre, Louis Aragon, André Breton, René Char, René Crevel, Salvador Dalí, Paul Eluard, Benjamin Peret, Georges Sadoul, André Thirion, Tristan Tzara, Pierre Unik and Albert Valentin. The film opens with footage of scorpions, the sense of a latent violence introduced in their upheld pincers and poised sting. Then, through the casual intertitle Segway of ‘Some hours later’ …the film begins (with the threatening insect prologue lending what follows an incipient sense of nervous danger).
The film, like Un Chien Andalou, follows a loose and interrupted narrative of love. Expounding ideas of Breton’s L’amour fou, love is portrayed as a rupturing experience of elemental force; the film follows the melodrama of two lovers and the course of their desire (a theme Bunuel addresses in many of his films, returning in his last film to approach it most explicitly- That Obscure Object of Desire). Along the way we encounter moments of oddball comedy (a classic example being when, early on, the male protagonist, Gaston Modot, decides – without apparent reason – to wildly kick a small dog. This is later followed by the, equally enthusiastic, kicking of a blind man- which, granted, is a frowned upon activity, but somehow captures the convulsive beauty – in a comical vein – that surrealists were so enamoured with.) Religion is undermined, with near infantile glee as popes are shown wasting away to skeletons and later (near the film’s end) chucked out of a bedroom window. It seems the ‘pope plummeting to his untimely demise’ was a popular surreal image, appearing also in Dulac’s The Seashell and the Clergyman (written by Antonin Artaud). Made in1928, this film is often credited as being closer in influence to German Expressionism, yet still clearly has a lot in common with aspects of surrealism.
Perhaps one of the most inspired moments of absurdity is when the female protagonist walks into her luxurious bedroom to find a huge cow lying incongruously on the four-poster bed. It even has a cow-bell. Inspired! Perhaps the most famous scene, in which the lovers elope, features a cheeky bit of toe fellatio – after her lover departs, the woman lustily becomes distracted by a statue’s phallic toe, which she then proceeds to adoringly suck. More disturbingly, earlier the two lovers converse as if they are in bed exchanging pre slumber small talk (‘where is the light switch?’- whispers of being ‘dreamy’) when, on cutting back to the man, he is suddenly shown bleeding heavily and cut across the face, moaning as if in dark ecstasy: ‘My love…My love’. It is a chilling moment, made all the more unsettling by its unexpected suddenness and the similarly abrupt return to relative normality. This jolt, or convulsion of surrealism confrontationally erupts, troubling the surrounding normality to suggest a violent euphoria of desire with uncompromising shock. A sky in a mirror; a burning Christmas tree; scorpions; desire; death; comedy and discordance. 8/10