(Mexico, 1954, 91 minutes, b&w, 35mm)
following film notes were prepared for the New York State Writers
Institute by Kevin Jack Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies
at Pennsylvania State University:
Emily Bronte’s novel had long been a favorite of Buñuel’s. He had wanted to film the tale of Heathcliff and Cathy, star-crossed lovers, since the early 1930’s. But the project had fallen through, and gradually been replaced by many new films in Buñuel’s long, fruitful exile from his native Spain. Finally, in the 1950’s, Buñuel’s producer, Oscar Dancigers, brought the idea back to him, and Buñuel was delighted to revisit the novel.
As always, in Wuthering Heights, Buñuel loves to tweak cinemagoers’ long-held expectations. Jorge Mistral as Heathcliff is a gleamingly handsome creature with pointed sideburns; this is no rough Heathcliff of the moors, but a smooth, polished matinee idol. Irasema Dilián as Cathy is gorgeous and hotblooded; Bronte’s sometimes fey, often regretful heroine is transformed by Buñuel into a fiery and brittle woman. (The actors had in fact been hired for a completely different film, a musical, but Buñuel was obliged to take them anyway, and being Buñuel, exulted in this extreme example of casting against type.) But in the chaotic world of 1950 Bronte takes great care to show us the architecture of the repression of passion in her novel, but Buñuel is happy to have his story vent those passions. Little of the conventional approach to Emily Bronte’s novel remains in Buñuel’s radical reenvisioning; even Bronte’s moors are no longer the moors, but the dry scrub forests of Mexico’s High Chapparal.
What fascinated Buñuel about the novel was its portrait of l’amour fou, mad love, the self-immolating passion that sweeps reason before it in a hurricane of jealousy and doubt. This kind of love revealed the lies and hypocrisies of the world, as the lovers’ desire for one another tears away social artifice and convention, leaving only the raw fact of human desire. Buñuel not only understood the power of this kind of love, he reveled in it as the only pure force available in a world of willful deception, writing in a 1929 question on surrealism that "I would willingly sacrifice my liberty to love." Indeed, many of Buñuel’s films over the next decades after making that statement deal with the willing exchange of liberty for love, culminating in his 1965 masterwork of love suborned by obsession, Belle de Jour. Wuthering Heights, in particular, with its incipient themes of marriage for economic gain and the explosive ability of a soul in love to deny reality and compulsively harm itself and others, made Wuthering Heights, for Buñuel, not a watery-eyed romance novel, but the story of a tempest of rage and self-indulgence which ranges over a landscape of class and sexual taboos, leaving devastation in its wake. Buñuel watches approvingly as passion fulfills itself at any cost, following its own logic, charting its own deadly course.
A scene in Wuthering Heights that Buñuel was very fond of had an old man reading to a child from an apocryphal biblical text. The phrases could serve as an epitaph for the compelling perversities of Buñuelian love:For our time is as the passing of a shadow, and there is no going back of our end; for it is fast sealed, and no man returneth.
Come therefore, and let us enjoy the good things that are present, and let us speedily use the creatures as in youth.
Let us fill ourselves with costly wine, and ointments; and let not the flower of the time pass by us.
Let us crown ourselves with roses, before they be withered; let no meadow escape our riot.
In this world, as the Buñuel scholar Raymond Durgnat impishly put it, "it is better to have loved and killed than never to have loved at all…"
— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University
For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.