Simon of the Desert is Luis Buñuel's wicked and wild take on the life of devoted ascetic Saint Simeon Stylites, who waited atop a pillar surrounded by a barren landscape for six years, six months, and six days, in order to... more » prove his devotion to God. Yet the devil, in the figure of the beautiful Silvia Pinal, huddles below, trying to tempt him down. A skeptic s vision of human conviction, Buñuel's short and sweet satire is one of the master filmmaker's most renowned works of surrealism.
SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES:
New, restored high-definition digital transfer
A Mexican Buñuel (1995), 50-minute documentary by Emilio Maillé
New interview with actress Silvia Pinal
New and improved English subtitle translation
PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by critic Michael Wood and a reprinted interview with Buñuel« less
"In an ancient, arid wasteland, the anchorite Simon stands day and night atop a giant pillar, scourging himself, rejecting his mother and surviving on a sustenance diet. The poor of the area come to him seeking bleassings and miracles; the religious elders gain spiritual balm from his example. Simon thinks himself unworthy to take holy orders, and is plagued not only by begrudgers who try to prove his hypocrisy, but by his own inner doubts, fears and distractions. The chief of these latter are the temptations of the Devil, who comes to see him three times. At first she is dressed in a sailor suit and suspenders; next as a lamb-kicking Jesus; and finally in a mobile coffin.Bunuel is usually, simplistically characterised as an anti-clerical or anti-bourgeois satirist, but this is to miss the ambivalence behind a statement such as 'Thank God I'm an atheist'. From the opening scene, Simon is compromised - he breaks his vigil to accept the gift of a wealthy benefactor. His miraculous abilities don't change a barbarously unjust world in which robbers' hands are lopped off, and the religious hierarchy have the murderous powers of the Inquistion. His miracles don't transform the souls of those he helps, instead amplifying their material self-interest. As MacHeath suggested 'Food is the first thing, morals follow on'. There are doubts about Simon's integrity, the extremity of which is often comical, and which is powerless against the sexual petulance of the Devil.Nevertheless, this very human frailty and hopelessness makes this lisping, Hispanic Charlton Heston quite sympathetic - he does have suernatural powers, which he uses for the good; and he is quicker to forgive than those in religious authority. The framing of Simon against the sky constantly cuts him off from the desert world and community he looks down on, but he achieves, on occasion, an ecstasy they have no access to. 'Simon' is one of Bunuel's funniest and most perfect films, bursting with memorable scenes, such as the dwarf eulogising his goat's teats to an innocent young priest; the frothing exorcism of a hypocritical elder; or the dream-memories Simon has his former, youthful life. The silent onlooking of his mother on the margins gives the film a melancholy, while the slow, steady camera moves towards Simon are appropriately dizzying. Although this comic look at relgious fervour anticipates the irreverance of Monty Python's 'Life Of Brian', Bunuel never breaks the integrity of his world, never gives his characters a modern consciousness, is faithful to the look, smells, emptiness and sounds of the desert (crunching sand, whistling winds, bleating animals, bells etc.) and its people."
SIMON STILL PROVOKES
Robin Simmons | Palm Springs area, CA United States | 02/13/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Forty-four years ago, Luis Buñuel (1900-1983), the Spanish film maestro still living in self-imposed Mexican exile from Franco's rule, directed what was to become his most famous work of surrealism.
Buñuel's last Mexican film, "Simon of the Desert" (Simon del Desierto), was originally intended to be a full-length feature film, but was cut short - literally - when the promised funding evaporated. With about 40 minutes of scripted material in the can, Buñuel radically altered the ending. A change that ensured the movie's well-deserved acclaim.
Simon is based on Symeon the Stylite, also known as the Hermit of the Pillar (around 400 A.D.). He was one of the many ascetics who sought salvation by isolation and deprivation after the fall of the Roman Empire. Simon chose to live atop a column, dependent on the good will of strangers for bread and water.
Like much of Buñuel's work, "Simon of the Desert" is considered blasphemous by some. The "enfante terrible of surrealism," a name Buñuel loved being called, depicts a bearded, bedraggled Simon (a terrific Claudio Brook) atop his pillar for six years, six months, six days (uh oh, 666), when the devil periodically appears (a la sensuous Sylvia Pinal) and taunts him, hoping he will climb down.
"Thank God I'm still an atheist," Buñuel was often quoted as saying. But he was educated by Jesuits and steeped in religious myth, ritual and culture. His mockery of organized religion is often inspired (no pun intended). Perhaps now more than ever as we are engaged in a global conversation regarding the effects religious fundamentalism and fanaticism.
"Simon of the Desert" comes to an abrupt and improvised ending that reminds me of the best of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone" scripts. Deeply moral and ironic, it's a jolting time-warp leap that gives new meaning to the emptiness of the post-modern age, the banality of evil and the superficiality of pop culture.
The new, restored, high-definition digital transfer is, as with all Criterion titles, as good as possible. Extras include A Mexican Buñuel an 56 minute 1997 documentary and a new interview with actress Sylvia Pinal. An included booklet features a new essay by Michael Wood and a vintage interview with Buñuel.
For the serious collector of world cinema landmarks, this is one for the digital library.
Also new from Criterion is Buñuel's other gem "The Exterminating Angel.""
Satirical, irreverent & hilarious
Wayne | England | 09/21/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Simon is a wise and healing ascetic who stands on top of a pillar in the desert. He shouts out his prayers, amusingly at times. On one occasion he starts a prayer, and then half way through says, "I forgot the rest". He also cures people. He gives a handless thief some new hands, the thief's wife then says, "Now you can do the gardening", and the man announces, "I can now spank my son". Some of the scenes reminded me of Monty Python's Life of Brian. Throughout the film Simon is visited, and tempted by Satan, who masquerades as a beautiful blonde woman. She entices Simon, and he repudiates her. The film draws to an outlandish and abrupt conclusion, probably because the funding dried up. A very funny and irreverent poke at religion from Buñuel."
Gorman Bechard | 04/09/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The only time I saw this was in an empty theatre on a Wednesday afternoon in New York when it was first released. I'd never seen Bunuel, so I had no preconceptions. (It was the second bill on some Orson Welles film I went to see and promptly forgot.) I left the theatre disappointed only to find myself thinking about all the next day. I reacted to most of his films that way< which is a sign of depth. This short, one two punch is his best film."
Gorman Bechard | New Haven, CT USA | 02/28/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Is this Bunuel's greatest film? No, not by any stretch. (For me personally that would be Exterminating Angel.) But it offers his classic take on religious hypocrisies in a brisk 45 minutes. The reaction when Simon produces his first miracle especially is one of the great moments in film. (Really, there are so many wonderful small Bunuelian touches. His take on the "priesthood" is hilarious.) I could go on, but it's 45 minutes, just watch the damn thing!
Thank you to Criterion for the flawless print. The film looks and sounds pristine!"