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L’Age d’Or

‘Around the principle characters, a man and woman, is disclosed the existing conflict in all human society between the sentiment of love and any other sentiment of a religious, patriotic, humanitarian order’, wrote Luis Buñuel of L’Age d’Or, his second film made in the late 1920s in collaboration with fellow surrealist Salvador Dali. L’Age d’Or opens with documentary footage in which a scorpion kills a rat, followed by scenes of four archbishops performing mysterious rites on a rocky shoreline. What still shocks and delights here is the abrasive humour with which Buñuel ruffles audience expectations, encapsulates whole edifices of human belief in a single image (the collapse of ecclesiastical imperialism’s golden age intimated in a shot of a house being blown up), and contrives to employ concrete symbols that stretch the imagination into making connections and associations. The documentary footage at the beginning is apparently irrelevant to anything that follows: yet the scorpion and the dying rat remain inescapably in mind as analogies when man, having reduced the archbishops to a heap of mouldering bones, sets out to fulfil his hitherto forbidden desires. The hero soon discovers that he has escaped from spiritual domination only to fall victim to a secular authority bent on forestalling the fulfilment of any desire whatsoever. Plus Un Chien Andalou, the equally notorious first Buñuel-Dali collaboration.
France, 1928. English subtitles. Black and white. 24 mins.

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