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(Mexican, 1955, 91 minutes, b/w)
In Spanish with English subtitles

Directed by Luis Buñuel

Ernesto Alonso..........Archibaldo
Miroslava Stern..........Lavinia
Rita Macedo..........Patricia Terrazas

In the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, Luis Buñuel, the cinema’s master Surrealist, plied his trade in Mexico. Some of his greatest, most personal films were made there--LOS OLIVIDADOS (1950), NAZARIN (1959)--but some of his best work occurred in slight-seeming films which were products of Mexico’s grossly commercial cinema. In these films, often frothy comedies or gooey melodramas put out to satisfy Mexico’s movie-mad masses, Buñuel learned to add craftsmanship to the art he had demonstrated as one of the cinema’s prodigies in the early works UN CHIEN ANDALOU (1928), L’AGE D’OR (1930) and LAS HURDES (1932). In films like SUBIDA AL CIELO (1951) and EL BRUTO (1952), Buñuel became canny, developing a knack for satisfying tough producers while inserting sly Buñuelian moments into the most prosaic of subjects. It was an odd apprenticeship which would bear its greatest fruits in the later masterpieces such as VIRIDIANA (1961) and BELLE DE JOUR (1967). One of the finest works of this Mexican period was the underrated THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ.

Archibaldo (Ernesto Alonso) is a kindly potter, who begins the film in a hospital, mourning for his dead fiancee and telling his strange story in flashback to a nun. It seems that Archibaldo had become obsessed with a decorative music box his haughty mother (Eva Calvo) had given him, a music box the boy believes is invested with magic powers. The boy tests the magic he believes lives in the box, and the ensuing chain of events links death to a lush eroticism in a relationship that will haunt Archibaldo the rest of his life. But it turns out that, as in so many of Buñuel’s later works, the telling of this story itself is a loaded event, for storytelling in Buñuel can be an act of malice or of love, but it is never simply a tale told without consequences. Here, Archibaldo’s confession is intimately linked with the bizarre cure he invents for himself, a cathartic epic of violence and desire, of the elevation of Freudian symbols to objects of strange veneration not merely for the wild Archibaldo, but increasingly, for us. . . Is Archibaldo’s commitment to his fantasy a cautionary tale, or an indulgent polymorphously perverse daydream? Buñuel’s breezy, light tone confuses the issue completely, exactly as he intended. The film is told in episodes of mayhem, but these episodes seem to be discrete parables of lust quenched and unquenched, not character studies of a maniac. And Buñuel’s camera never lingers on the action the way his protagonist obsesses over his music box; instead we seem to float along with Buñuel’s agile, moving point-of-view. Because we are never allowed to wallow in Archibaldo’s Sweeney Todd life, we have to continually remind ourselves that this is a horrific tale of casual murder. We are so thoroughly stitched into Archibaldo’s world of fantasy that an equally unreal resolution to the film leaves us feeling refreshed and rehabilitated, cured perhaps of some of our own obsessions by watching the singular psychological healing of Archibaldo.

— Donald Faulkner, NYS Writers Institute


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