Thursday, June 18, 2020
Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsule #73 Death in the Garden  ★★★½
But despite appearances, Buñuel brings his particularly singular worldview to bear in this film, creating something that stands far apart from its proto-blockbuster predecessors. For starters, it demonstrates the Spaniard’s trademark hatred for authority, whether it comes from the state or the church (although, due to his Catholic background, in many of his films these two forces are one and the same). The government officials who seize the mine and hunt Shark, Djin, & co. are bizarrely aloof and detached in their cruelty. For them the slaughter of unarmed miners and the humiliation of local townspeople is positively blasé. (In one of Buñuel’s only surrealist flourishes in the film, a dead rebel is “executed” by firing squad to maintain appearances.) The local Catholic church is also portrayed as totally impotent, both incapable of stopping the exploitation of the natives and, one expects after watching them, unwilling as long as they aren’t good Christian converts. This is best demonstrated in Father Lizardi (Michel Piccoli), one of the jungle escapees who time and again commits the only true sin one can commit in a Buñuel film: trust in mankind’s better nature. In a running joke, Lizardi repeatedly “personally accounts” for people who turn traitor and betray him and his group. That’s he’s doomed to die for his foolishness in rejecting Buñuel’s misanthropic nihilism is a given from the moment we first see him. Though belonging to the oft-overlooked Mexican phase of Buñuel’s career, Death in the Garden is nonetheless as caustic and vicious as anything he ever made.