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L'Âge d'Or (1930)

L'Âge d'Or, Age of Gold, The Golden Age

A surrealist masterpiece.

Directed by:

Luis Buñuel

Rating: 10/10

Running Time: 63 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: France

A year after his striking cinematic debut with Un Chien Andalou, Luis Buñuel worked for the second (and last) time with Salvador Dali, and the result was “L’Âge d’Or”, their crowning collaborative achievement and a masterpiece of celluloid surrealism.

At four times the length of “Un Chien Andalou”, and with its own integrated musical soundtrack and dialogue, “L’Âge d”Or” is not only more ambitious than its predecessor, but also altogether more accessible and entertaining. For where Buñuel’s earlier film was merely a free association of strange happenings, disturbing images and subversions of form, defying all meaningful interpretation, “L’Âge d’Or” takes these same elements and nails them to an identifiable, albeit anarchic, narrative, so that they assume a kind of coherence, however tenuous, making the objects of Buñuel’s iconclastic attacks much clearer.

The film begins with a programmatic documentary on the scorpion – a creature which, much like the film itself, is a product of the underground, and carries a vicious sting in its tail. With the caption “Some hours afterwards..”, the action shifts to a rag-tag group of armed peasant bandits (included among them the surrealists Max Ernst, Pierre Prévert and Paul Éluard) rushing to defend their wild rocky shores against the arrival of the invading “Majorcans” – but one by one they collapse with exhaustion on the way. The Majorcan dignitaries arrive and begin the inauguration ceremony for the new city of Imperial Rome (in 1930!), only to be interrupted by the loud noises of Don X (Gaston Modot) and a girl (Lya Lys) cavorting on the ground. The mud-bespattered Don X is escorted away, cursing, kicking poodles and crushing beetles as he goes. After a brief, disjointed travelogue of Rome, we cut to the stately villa where the girl is distracted by her longing for Don X, while her parents are preparing a formal soirée for the Majorcans. Don X gets away from his captors and comes to the party, where, after slapping the girl’s mother, he sneaks off with the girl into the rear of the garden (while the guests listen to an orchestral performance at the front). The couple engage in a series of dreamlike exchanges overflowing with desire and eroticism, only to be interrupted first by a phone call informing Don X that he is to blame for violent civic unrest, and then by the arrival of the distressed conductor of the orchestra. In a fury, Don X rushes to the girl’s bedroom and throws objects from the window (a burning tree, a bishop, a giraffe). The film’s coda recreates the conclusion to “The 120 Days of Sodom” by the Marquis de Sade (a hero of the surrealist movement), blasphemously portraying the depraved ringleader of de Sade’s deviant torturers as a Christ figure, and ending with an image of beards (or is it pubic hair) nailed to a crucifix.

Buñuel’s target in all this is the absurd trappings of genteel bourgeois society, designed (in vain) to suppress the subversive forces of paganism, sexuality, violence and the irrational. The cow in the bed, the workers’ cart driven through the ballroom, the flies crawling over an elder dignitary’s face, the playful children, the fire in the kitchen, Don X’s enraged outbursts and the desire running riot at the far end of the garden of culture – no matter how much Buñuel’s Majorcan bourgeoisie try to ignore these destabilising elements or cover them over with a veneer of civilised manners, their enduring presence cannot be denied, making a mockery of everything built to keep them down – and even the pieties of the church fail to disguise the most basic, and base, of human instincts.

A biting, often hilarious dream-piece depicting civilisation barely founded, sensuality barely concealed and characters barely awake, and a call to arms for those who would defend the topsy-turvy irrationality of the Golden Age.

It's Got: Bandits, bishops, bovine bedhoppers, blasphemy and the bourgeoisie, all brought together in a disorienting blend of narrative and faux-documentary. ANDS some of the most erotically charged images ever committed to celluloid.

It Needs: Due worship for its enduring genius.

DVD Extras This DVD is the second disk in a BFI boxset which couples the film with Buñuel/Dali's first film Un Chien Andalou - and it is as crisp a print of the underground black-and-white 1930 film (one of Frances first talkies) as you could hope to see. With the boxset comes an excellent and attractive booklet including notes on the films by Robert Short (one-time underground filmmaker, retired Reader in European Studies at the University of East Anglia, and author of The Age of Gold: Surrealist Cinema), biographies of Buñuel and Dali, a select bibliography on the films, Buñuels own notes on Un Chien Andalou, and a Surrealist Manifesto concerning L'Âge D'Or. Disk Two includes: L'Âge D'Or (French language, with optional English subtitles); scene selection; audio commentary by Robert Short (with optional subtitles for the hard of hearing) on select scenes (totalling 26min), revealing, amongst other things, that the film, despite its overt anti-Establishment position, was bankrolled by the aristocrat Vicomte Charles de Noailles as a birthday present to his wife (who was herself a direct descendant of the Marquis de Sade), and that it provoked a Fascist riot at a 1930 screening, leading to its being banned ("for once Surrealism found itself being taken seriously"). Over on Disk One there is an engaging introduction to both the Buñuel collaborations by Robert Short (25min, with optional subtitles for the hard of hearing); and the documentary A Propósito de Buñuel (99min, Spanish/French language with optional English subtitles), on Buñuel's life and works, full of interviews with friends, family and colleagues (none of whom, annoyingly, is captioned) as well as the irreverent prankster himself, and punctuated by sequences from some of his many films (again not captioned). DVD Extras Rating: 7/10

Alternatives:

El Topo, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Un Chien Andalou

Summary

This bourgeois-baiting masterpiece of celluloid surrealism is the crowning collaborative achievement of Luis Buñuel and Dali – a biting, often hilarious dream-piece depicting civilisation barely founded, sensuality barely concealed and characters barely awake.

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