Surreal honor: Berlin toasts Spain's Bunuel


The 2008 Berlin International Film Festival will pay tribute to Spanish surrealist director Luis Bunuel with a retrospective of his films as well as a series of lectures and discussion panels.

Bunuel grab-bed his place in film history with the very first frame of his first film — the 17-minute short "An Andalusian Dog" (1929), which begins with a razor blade slicing through a woman's eyeball. Written together with painter Salvador Dali, the film started the surrealist cinema movement, with its dreamlike images, plotless story lines and enthusiastic embrace of social taboos.

But it was Bunuel's first feature film that marked the course of his future career. "The Age of Gold" (1930), a full-scale attack on the Catholic church and the middle classes, was immediately banned in France as "anticlerical." The church and the bourgeoisie were to obsess Bunuel throughout his cinematic career and his films were repeatedly banned for their "scandalous" content.

"It's impossible to classify Bunuel. His greatness lies in his persistence to present his own individual perspective on things. He invented cinematic surrealism, was provocative in socio-critical works, and achieved fame with satirical portraits of Europe's bourgeoisie," retrospective director Rainer Rother said.

With "Viridiana" (1961), the story of a fallen nun, Bunuel set off one of the biggest scandals in Spanish cinema history. The film was made at the invitation of General Francisco Franco, who wanted to demonstrate his support for Spanish cinema. After seeing "Viridiana," Franco banned it immediately on the grounds of blasphemy. "Viridiana" went on to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

"Viridiana" marked the beginning of Bunuel's late period, where the director produced some of his best work. These included such films as "The Diary of a Chambermaid" (1964), starring Jeanne Moreau, and his masterpiece "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" (1971), which won the foreign-language film Oscar.

"Bunuel was a member of the 20th century avant-garde and developed a new cinematic language, one that still influences generations of filmmakers today," Berlin Film Festival director Dieter Kosslick said. "This is why we are honoring the work of this significant director with our retrospective."

Both the Berlin festival and film fans should be glad no one followed the mischievous surrealistic advice Bunuel gave in his autobiography: to burn the prints of all his films.