The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (Luis Buñuel / Mexico-U.S., 1954):
(Las Aventuras de Robinson Crusoe)

Luis Buñuel presents Dafoe's classic as a voluminous book tastefully arranged under the opening credits, then promptly cuts through the luxuriant leather cover to make the work his own. The brisk shadow-montage sketches the shipwreck that strands the young aristocrat (Dan O'Herlihy) in his verdant cage, the island deserted but for the animals, over which he is to play God. The years give him a beard as lush as Heston's Moses, though the Bible's meaning ("cure for the soul") has waned long before -- hungry for another voice, he cries out "The Lord is my Shepherd" into the valley of echoes, only for his words to bounce back weakened, mocking. A hallucination serves as internal cleansing, with the fevered Crusoe's father materializing in the cave, doing his I-told-you-so routine for the agonizingly dry-mouthed protagonist while washing a pig. A burning torch is thrown into the ocean, the hero's survival skills are gradually sharpened by the sheer vastness of his open-air prison -- after all, Crusoe to Buñuel is a bourgeois who's forced to pick up a shovel and the island, despite the rather dreamlike unreality of the Pathécolor tones, is a workshop of practicality, its wheat grain as palpable as its mysteries (the immaculate kitten that births a litter). Still, basic needs ache: A forlorn dolly-out (revealing a jovial sing-a-long to exist only in his mind) sums up Crusoe's loneliness, later he becomes aroused, then frustrated, by the sudden female form from women's garments hung on a rickety scarecrow cross. Crusoe comes upon a footprint on the beach, and promptly reaches for his rifle; paranoia has never left him, and, judging from the initial treatment of cannibal-companion Friday (Jaime Fernández), neither have his colonialist impulses. Yet this is Buñuel's submerged optimism, life's dichotomies (civilized/savage, white/dark, master/servant) are reconciled in acceptance of in-betweens, but not before a theological chat in which a de Sade line stumps the hero. Cinematography by Alex Phillips. With Felipe de Alba, Chel López, and Emilio Garibay.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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