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Retrospective on surrealist film master Luis Bunuel

The surrealist film master, Spanish director Luis Bunuel, stunned audiences with shocking ideas and powerful images. Many of his films were greeted by controversy, protests from the church and condemnation from politicians, but he repeatedly challenged conventional prejudice.

Lauded by Alfred Hitchcock as "the Best Director Forever", Bunuel won many awards and honours in his lifetime. From surrealist experimentation, comedy, melodrama to postmodernist films, the uncompromising director was always devoted to creativity and remained loyal to his style.

To salute the film master, 15 film classics will be shown from September 7 to 30. The selection is Bunuel's surrealistic masterpiece "An Andalusian Dog", his last film with artist Salvador Dali "The Golden Age", surrealist comedies "Mexican Bus Ride" and "Illusion Travels by Streetcar", award-winning films "The Young and the Damned", "Nazarin", "Viridiana", "The Exterminating Angel", "Diary of a Chambermaid", "Simon of the Desert", "Beauty of the Day", "The Milky Way", "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie", "The Phantom of Liberty" and his swansong "That Obscure Object of Desire".

Presented by the Film Programmes Office of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and curated by Mr Law Waiming, the "Repertory Cinema 2007" series features "Luis Bunuel" as its second programme. Works of Italian film master Federico Fellini will be shown in December.

The screenings will be held at the Cinema of Hong Kong Film Archive from September 7 to 16, and at the Lecture Hall of Hong Kong Science Museum and Hong Kong Space Museum from September 19 to 30.

To accompany the screenings, a seminar entitled "Always Surreal - Luis Bunuel's films", to be conducted in Cantonese, is scheduled for September 23 at 4.30pm at the Lecture Hall of Hong Kong Space Museum.

Bunuel was born 1900 in Calanda, Spain, to a wealthy land-owning family. Though he received a strict Jesuit education, he lived a rebellious life and was determined to free himself from the bondage of religion.

He studied natural sciences and agronomy but his mind was not on the subjects. He turned a new page in his life when he made acquaintances with Salvador Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca at university. Dali later became a master in surrealist art and and Lorca became a famous Spanish poet.

He was amazed by Fritz Lang's "Destiny" and decided to become a director. After being an assistant director on several films, Bunuel collaborated with Dali on his first short film "An Andalusian Dog", which placed his name in world film history.

During the Spanish Civil War, Bunuel moved to the United States and stayed in Mexico from 1946 to 1964 where he started the second period in his career with many low-budget Spanish language films. At the invitation of General Franco, Bunuel returned to Spain to shoot films to promote Spanish culture. The "Viridiana" won him great acclaim yet it was considered to be blasphemous and was banned in Spain.

After the golden age of Mexican film industry, Bunuel started to work in France with producer Serge Silberman and writer Jean Claude Carrière, resulting in many great films like the "Diary of a Chambermaid" starring Jeanne Monreau, "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" starring Fernando Rey and "Beauty of the Day" starring Catherine Deneuve. He was awarded a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement by Venice Film Festival in 1981 and died in 1983.

The opening film, Bunuel's masterpiece "An Andalusian Dog" (1929) was well ahead of its time. It shocked the art world with provocative scenes of slitting an eyeball, a dead donkey on piano and ants in a man's palm. The film was elected one of "The 25 Most Dangerous Movies".

Dali and Bunuel's last collaboration "The Golden Age" (1930) explored religion, sexual desires and decadence of the bourgeoisie. The film was besieged by the conservatives at its initial release, and theatres were raided by right-wingers, resulting in a total ban by the French government with two print copies destroyed. Fortunately, the master copy was hidden by the producer so the film is still able to be seen today.

Bunuel conducted research in Mexican ghettos for "The Young and the Damned" (1950). The film had upset everyone including the crew, as it depicted a fiendish youth gang and their not so decent parents. Though the film was jeered by the Mexican audiences, it won Bunuel the Best Director at Cannes and his first international box-office success amidst the controversy.

"Viridiana" (1961) tells the story of a young novice who devotes herself to the poor but creates scandal among the church. The script was ordered to be changed after censorship. Bunuel smuggled a copy to Paris for editing and sent to Cannes for showing on the last day of the festival. To everyone's astonishment, the jury had to amend its previously-set award list. It won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival 1961. Yet the film was banned in Spain for 16 years and some theatres showing this film in Rome were even shut down.

An examination of social pretension, Denmark Bodil Awards winning film "The Exterminating Angel" (1962) carried the construct of "never able to do what you want" with a torturing anxiety: a group of nobles who do not talk sense at a dinner party with no real direction in life. Continuing on the same theme, "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" (1972) features a group of people who find having a dinner is no easy matter. Either the date is wrong or the restaurant owner is dead. The film won the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards 1973.

"Diary of a Chambermaid" (1964) is Bunuel's feminist masterpiece. A young Parisian maid in a country home finds the peculiarity of her employers: the master has fetishism and the mistress arousal disorder. As the maid plans to leave the place, a girl is raped and murdered. Jeanne Moreau won the Best Actress at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 1964.

Morality is once again challenged by Bunuel in "Beauty of the Day" (1966). Catherine Deneuve plays the exquisite affluent woman who releases her primitive sexual desires by betraying her husband. The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival 1967 and the Critics Award at the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics 1968.

Another great piece on surrealism, "The Milky Way" (1969) features two men, on a pilgrimage from France to Spain, tempted by heretics in a most absurd and bizarre fashion. They hold fast to the belief of their own knowledge, but cannot distinguish between the truth and deceit that lay before them. The film won the Interfilm Award at the Berlin International Film Festival 1969.

At the height of European terrorism, Bunuel's swansong "That Obscure Object of Desire" (1977) is a volatile mix. Fernando Rey once again plays the failed bourgeois who will never get the soul or body of his woman, played by two actresses interpreting two different characters of the same woman. The film won numerous film awards including Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film at the National Board of Review, USA 1977, and the Best Director at Spain Cinema Writers Circle Awards 1979.

Not to be missed are Bunuel's surrealist comedy "Mexican Bus Ride" (1951), almost its sequel "Illusion Travels by Streetcar" (1953), Cannes Film Festival awarded film "Nazarin" (1958), Venice Film Festival awarded film "Simon of the Desert" (1965), and Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists awarded film "The Phantom of Liberty" (1974).

"An Andalusian Dog" is a silent movie. All other films have English subtitles.

Tickets priced at $50 are available at all URBTIX outlets. Half-priced concessionary tickets are available for senior citizens, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients. There will be a 10% discount for each purchase of six to 10 tickets and a 20% for each purchase of 11 or more tickets.

For programme information, call 2734 2900 or visit . Reservation can be made at 2734 9009 or on the Internet at .

Ends/Thursday, August 16, 2007
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