Simon of the Desert

"Excellent"

Simon of the Desert Review


Summing up Luis Buñuel's wicked Simon of the Desert is easy: Saint Simeon Stylites (Buñuel regular Claudio Brook) travels from the top of a small pillar, where he has been praying for six years, six months, and six weeks, to a larger pillar built by a worshiper. Atop the new pillar, he receives many adulators and priests but mostly spends his time resisting the temptations of the Devil (Sylvia Pinal). Simon talks of his devotions, the everyday sins of the many, and wags his finger at the Devil, until the temptress invokes a hairpin turn in the film's final measures.

Simon, which was the last of three films Buñuel made with Brook, Pinal, and Pinal's husband/producer Gustavo Alatriste, notoriously ran out of funding before it was completed, but its hard to imagine a more mainlined shot of Buñuel's Kool-Aid than the resulting 45-minute acid trip through heaven, hell, and the cracked earth. Resilient and complex despite its short narrative, Buñuel fashioned this outlandishly critical work from the story of the Syria-born Simeon Stylites the Elder, who started studying Christianity when he was 16 and then spent the rest of his life (37 years) praying on top of pillars.

Though this particular adherent allows a perfect setting for Buñuel to exercise his flippantly-controversial distaste for Judeo-Christian ethics, this also gives the director the perfect setting for one of his most radical bouts of experimentation and hallucinatory trickery. In his last altercation with the Devil, who arrives in a self-propelled casket, the final temptation is offered, sending Simeon and the Devil to a Bowery rock club where the kids are gyrating to a dance called "Radioactive Flesh." Simeon threatens to leave, but the Devil reminds him that he never will be able to. Drinking, listening to rock music, and dancing: the poor bastard!

Like The Milky Way, Simon serves as a perfect introduction for Buñuel neophytes to begin to find their way through the filmmaker's devious groove. Much more accessible than his later works and not nearly as dense as something like Viridiana, Simon streamlines the message and never begins to wear on your nerves, yet still retains the trademark nuances. Besides the heavily bestial intimations between a dwarf and his goat and Pinal sporting a beard as she shows some leg, the best moment involves an ancient witch running through the desert, naked as a jaybird, cursing the would-be saint. The moment gives Carlos Reygadas' Japón a run for its money.

What's always interesting about Buñuel, and why his pertinence remains, is how oddly plainspoken he is about religion and reality. If you didn't know any better, or if that magical blast to NYC had halted on Mexican soil, Simon could be taken as a very straightforward retelling of Simeon's struggles with sinning and his legions of followers. Obviously not one to paint a character of such high moral standards as without flaw, however, the director also shows the insufferable nature of such idols. You could forget how Buñuel charges all devout followers as weak-willed and easy to tempt and you would still have this poignant question: Who, in the name of all things Holy, would ever want to hang out, let alone follow, this bearded horse's ass?

Aka Simón del desierto.



Simon of the Desert

Facts and Figures

Run time: 45 mins

In Theaters: Monday 9th February 1970

Distributed by: Criterion Collection

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 15

IMDB: 8.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Luis Buñuel

Producer: Gustavo Alatriste

Starring: Silvia Pinal as The Devil, as Simón, Enrique Álvarez Félix as Brother Matías, Hortensia Santoveña as The Mother, Francisco Reiguera as The Devil as an Old Witch, Luis Aceves Castañeda as Priest, Antonio Bravo as Priest, Enrique del Castillo as The Mutilated One

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

After the thunderous reception for J.J. Abrams' Episode VII: The Force Awakens two years ago,...

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Like the 2015 original, this comedy plays merrily with cliches to tell a silly story...

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

There's a somewhat contrived jauntiness to this blending of fact and fiction that may leave...

Ferdinand Movie Review

Ferdinand Movie Review

This animated comedy adventure is based on the beloved children's book, which was published in...

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Director Dave McCary makes a superb feature debut with this offbeat black comedy, which explores...

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

A dramatisation of the real-life clash between tennis icons Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs,...

Shot Caller Movie Review

Shot Caller Movie Review

There isn't much subtlety to this prison thriller, but it's edgy enough to hold the...

Advertisement
The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

A hilariously outrageous story based on real events, this film recounts the making of the...

Stronger Movie Review

Stronger Movie Review

Based on a true story about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this looks like one...

Only the Brave Movie Review

Only the Brave Movie Review

Based on a genuinely moving true story, this film undercuts the realism by pushing its...

Wonder Movie Review

Wonder Movie Review

This film may be based on RJ Palacio's fictional bestseller, but it approaches its story...

Happy End  Movie Review

Happy End Movie Review

Austrian auteur Michael Haneke isn't known for his light touch, but rather for hard-hitting, award-winning...

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Seemingly from out of nowhere, this film generates perhaps the biggest smile of any movie...

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

A Victorian thriller with rather heavy echoes of Jack the Ripper, this film struggles to...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.