The Milky Way (The Criterion Collection)

This is a delightful entry in Bunuel’s canon of surrealistic masterpieces

April 7th, 2011 by Wayward Muse
Genres: Actors: Alain Cuny, Bernard Verley, Claude Cerval, Delphine Seyrig, Edith Scob, François Maistre, Georges Marchal, Julien Bertheau, Laurent Terzieff, Michel Piccoli, Paul Frankeur, Pierre Clémenti Featured Directors: Movements:
The Milky Way

At first this film may seem a bit intimidating as it  seems to require a knowledge of the history of specific heresies in the Catholic Church. But, by watching the extras it is possible to get as much background information as is necessary to fully enjoy this movie. “An Athiest’s Thanks to God” is especially helpful—the very title catches a sense of the humor and paradox that is this film.

Bunuel has a reputation as an almost vicious critic and satirist of organized religion and the Catholic Church (who else, for example, would gleefully depict Jesus as the leader of the four degenerates of de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, as Bunuel did in his early film, l’Age d’Or?!?) The Milky Way, however, is not explicitly such a satire—it is a rigorously surrealist film that resists any easy classification. Catholic priests and atheists can equally enjoy what Bunuel has accomplished here! The film uses direct quotations from the Bible and from historical documents and heretical literature as the bulk of the dialog. There is a hilarious saber duel, for example, between a Jesuit and Jansenist, who simultaneously spar verbally with dogma vs. heresy. As pointed out in the extras, all the recognized “heresies” clustered around the six basic “mysteries” of the Church. Bunuel, while depicting the utterly surreal nature of these “mysteries” (such as the dogma of God being both a unity and a trinity), is not specifically on the side of the heretics. There is an almost reverent treatment of the mysteries as revealing truth in a manner similar to the impenetrable Zen Koans. It is easier to see the utter absurdity of murdering millions of people because they refuse to “believe” in the mystery of “one hand clapping” and Bunuel does not let the atrocity of killing in the name of dogma escape his gaze. Overall, I loved this movie—there is nothing “minor” about it. It is a mature masterpiece.

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