After years in Mexican exile, Luis Buñuel returned to his native Spain to make this dark account of corruption, which won a ‘Best Film’ prize at Cannes but was immediately banned in Spain. A young nun, full of charity, kindness and idealistic illusions about humanity, visits her uncle and tries to help some local peasants and beggars. But her altruism is greeted with ridicule and cruelty. Silvia Piñal and Fernando Rey give superb performances as, respectively, the young novice and her lecherous protector, while Buñuel’s clear-eyed wit is relentless in its depiction of human selfishness, ingratitude and cynicism. The final beggars’ orgyoa black parody of the Last Supper performed to the ethereal stains of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ois one of the director’s most memorably disturbing, funny, and brutal scenes. A masterpiece.

Spain-Mexico, 1961. English subtitles. Black and white. 91mins.

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