Nazarin (Luis Buñuel / Mexico, 1959):

Thornton Wilder has the theme in Heaven’s My Destination, Luis Buñuel shoots it somberly to best contrast it with the joke version (Simon of the Desert). Beaten by prisoners and jeered by prostitutes, that’s the apostolic priest (Francisco Rabal) in rural Mexico, "un grandissimo tonto" to the flophouse dwellers. He’s robbed of everything yet has no use for locks, in staggers the streetwalker (Rita Macedo) with murder on her conscience; her sister the suicidal epileptic (Marga López) meanwhile writhes on the street outside. (One’s delirious vision of a chortling Jesus is stitched to the other’s carnal recollection, a rough lover’s lip bitten bloody.) After scandal spreads, he ditches his cassock for peasant rags and hits the road with the women behind him. "Be saintly on your own" is the grouchy guidance to his followers, ahead are ailing children and pestilent villages. Out in the wilderness, between Voltaire and Bernanos, Buñuel’s search for illumination: "I can’t even buy candles, how could I afford electricity?" In the collision of pious intentions and a sordid world, Christian deeds are suggestively derailed. Padre Nazario turned away at the construction site is filmed like a memory of Muni in I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, a couple of faintly heard gunshots state the ensuing riot. A bedridden woman is offered last rites, but all she longs for is her beloved’s embrace. Coolly proud in his humility, the protagonist himself has much to learn about compassion: When the disconsolate López leans her head on his shoulder, he turns his gaze to the snail slithering on his hand. (By comparison, the dwarf who declares his feelings for Macedo embodies the simplest, most direct love.) A film of "inner and outer wounds," where the epiphany that unsettles and frees comes in the shape of a pineapple, like Lorca’s pomegranate. Rossellini (The Flowers of St. Francis) and Bergman (Winter Light) have their variations, the noose that literally brings the house down ripples on to Lewis (Cracking Up) and Kusturica (Time of the Gypsies). Cinematography by Gabriel Figueroa. With Ignacio López Tarso, Ofelia Guilmáin, Noé Murayama, and Jesús Fernández. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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