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September 24, 2007

Luis Bunuel Blog-a-thon: Gran Casino

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Luis Bunuel - 1947
Lionsgate Region 1 DVD

I recall a line from an interview in which Luis Bunuel stated he made Mexican films for Mexican audiences. No truer words were spoken in the case of Gran Casino, any yet I have to admit that the film is enjoyable on its own terms. Except for one very brief shot of glass breaking, there is little to indicate that this is a Luis Bunuel film. Missing are the iconic images - the straight razor cutting the eye or the parody of "The Last Supper" for example. There is, however, the comic absurdity of seeing Jorge Negrete backup chorus, Trio Calaveras appear whenever Negrete bursts into song. Additionally, there is the oil field, looking like nothing but a cheap studio set, filmed as infrequently as possible.

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I think that to dislike Gran Casino is an absurd gesture. Had it not been for this film, Luis Bunuel would not have had the film career he eventually was able to achieve. More likely, Bunuel would be remembered by academics for his first three films, but otherwise would be one of those filmmakers mentioned in the same breath as Jean Epstein - an interesting experimental filmmaker from a bygone era. Gran Casino was successful enough that Bunuel would make one other film before making Los Olvidados, the film that re-established him critically.

In its own way, Gran Casino thematically fits in with Bunuel's concerns. As far as the film is concerned, the real villain is not the casino owner who murders the manager of the competing oil field, but his boss, a German businessman. The dialogue pointedly suggests that the character of Van Eckerman was a Nazi. In this scene, Bunuel is allowed to make an indirect jab at Franco as well as the politics that he had always opposed.

Bunuel even seems to have paid a sort of tribute to Gilda with the performace of Meche Barba. If anything, Gran Casino, more than his two English language films, makes one wonder what kind of films we might have seen had Bunuel actually embraced making films north of the Mexican border.

More Bunuel at Flickhead.

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Posted by peter at September 24, 2007 12:18 AM

Comments

Thanks for joining the blogathon, Peter. I'd completely forgotten that, while watching that dance number, Gilda came to mind. She doesn't look too hot in still photos, but Mercedes/Meche Barba really is something to see in that scene!

Posted by: Flickhead at September 24, 2007 02:45 PM

Another Bunuel film I haven't seen. I wasn't that interested but after reading your post I want to check it out.

Posted by: Joe D at September 25, 2007 01:12 PM

Peter: How fascinating to have three takes (at this point) on a Buuel film I've never seen. I appreciate your focus on its supporting players, namely Trio Calaveras and Meche Barba. Thanks for singling them out.

I'm not so sure how "successful" one could call this film. Moderately so, Buuel infers himself. "[I]t took me over two years of scratching my nose, watching flies, and living off my mother's money before I made another movie," he admits in his autobiography My Last Sigh (2003:199).

Posted by: Maya at September 26, 2007 08:23 PM