[Last Film I Watch] El (1953) 

El poster

Title: El
Year: 1953
Country: Mexico
Language: Spanish
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Director: Luis Buñuel
Writers:
Luis Buñuel
Luis Alcoriza
based on the novel of Mercedes Pinto
Music: Luis Hernández Bretón
Cinematography: Gabriel Figueroa
Cast:
Arturo de Córdova
Delia Garcés
Luis Beristáin
Aurora Walker
Manuel Dondé
Carlos Martínez Baena
Rafael Banquells
Rating: 7.6/10

El 1953

EL, in Spanish means “he”, in this Buñuel’s film, he is Francisco (de Córdova), an unmarried middle-aged bourgeois man, who is first seen as an assistant during a church ceremony in Mexico City, he is pouring water into the basin when Father Velasco (Baena) prepares to wash the feet of a young boy, and a close-up is zoomed in as Father kisses the foot he just washed, before another shot aiming a pair of female feet, the svelte legs then reveals they belong to a fine-looking woman Gloria (Garcés), for whom Francisco falls at first glance, lust stems from the sight of a pair of feet. So in hindsight, the tongue-in-cheek reference of feet fetish not just insinuates one of Francisco’s essential quality is his religious fervor, but also incriminates religion as the main cause in his paranoid psyche. Seeing that it is also in the church, Francisco finally discharges all his rage over the tipping point, towards whom? Father Velasco, his dearest friend.

The plot is a fairly conceivable, Gloria recently returns from Argentina with her mother (Walker) and is engaged with an architect Raúl (Beristáin), who turns out to be Francisco’s acquaintance. Thus, by throwing a lavish dinner party in his immense villa, Francisco cunningly wins her over by his dedicated idea of true love should germinate from the very first sight (of course, his wealth and debonair flair also tip the scales). Then the timeline forwards an unspecified period of time, when a distraught Gloria seeks help from Raúl, the flashback unveils what is actually underneath the urbane facade of Francisco after they get married during that spell.

Being an objectionable composite of wanton jealousy, paranoia, male chauvinism, self-centeredness, wanting confidence as a competent lover and overbearing self-respect “nothing I hate more than happy morons”, Francisco is played out as a complete obnoxious character far far away beyond any redemption, while Gloria’s own safety slowly but surely slides down into an ominous menace, to a point we wonder why she is still willing to live with him (a lavish villa is difficult to jolt, one may say). This is Buñuel in the mid-stream of his career, applies a more discreet visual style to this unsophisticated narrative, the showiest parts strike when Francisco totally loses his sanity, the irregular shooting angles, two different worlds (surreal and real) alternately materialise in front of him, honed up to a thrilling tension with Luis Hernández Bretón’s arresting score.

Arturo de Córdova’s performance is sterling despite Francisco is the impossible sort to invite compassion, utterly compelling when he betrays his deep-rooted vulnerability, although he is deeply in love with Gloria, he is unable to love, cannot even pull off his evil attempt of murder, an out-and-out weakling, subverted by his bourgeois upbringings and religious influence, monastery is the fitting final settling place for him. Delia Garcés’s Gloria, adopts a comely appearance but hampered by her own indecision and subservience to a patriarchal supremacy, which society casts on women at that time, she is spellbound to watch when she finally opens up about all her suffering. Apart from an expert study on paranoia, the film is a telling lesson that every young woman should sensibly set a stint of observation period when a seemingly-perfect middle-aged bachelor proposes to you, and it is a safe bet that there is something iffy about him, personality-or-peculiarity-wise.

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