The Milky Way

"Very Good"

The Milky Way Review


Approaching a film like Luis Buñuel's The Milky Way isn't a cut-and-dry affair. Part of you wants to look at it in the pantheon of Buñuel's oeuvre, citing his patented sense of sarcasm, skepticism, and wit. Another idea is to tackle it as a singular film, discuss its theories, its themes and characters, and the director's "point." Another dead end: Way has an episodic surrealism that makes clearly describing it somewhat in the vein of teaching a humpback whale how to solve a Rubik's cube. My editor told me the best way might be to just babble incoherently. [You're doing fine at that so far! -Ed.]

There are only two consistent elements in Buñuel's film: Its mocking of Catholicism and the two bums making a pilgrimage to the altar of St. James. Outside of these elements, there are high-flying moments that disregard time altogether. You'd call it goofy, but it's so well-crafted that you just hold on for dear life through all the outright daffiness that pours out of Buñuel's imagery.

Amongst the sights and sounds: Jesus contemplating shaving his beard until Mary tells him that the long hair looks good on him; a nun getting crucified by her fellow brides of Christ; a Jesuit getting into a duel over the existence of grace and free will. These are just the bits that don't involve the two pilgrims, Pierre (Paul Frankeur) and Jean (Laurent Terzieff), who themselves come across all sorts of fanatic loons and religious blowhards on their travels to Spain. They get tossed out of a car for saying "goddamn," get invited to an orgy of pious, half-naked men and women, and witness a school play where little girls cite all the little, dirty things one can be condemned for.

Though by many means one of his less concentrated works, the Buñuelian charm is all over this baby. His critiques and satirical cuts are well-considered and just complex enough to make you raise an eyebrow. More so, his surrealism has a placidity to it that throws you off his trail time after time, something that works both to his advantage and against it. Still, Buñuel's aim is to find some truth in Catholicism, and the religion sadly comes up wanting in every instance.

The Milky Way was Buñuel's first film in a trilogy about "the search for truth", predating both The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Phantom of Liberty. The point comes across hard, but it doesn't have the director's patented deviousness and subtleness. Considered against more developed masterpieces such as Viridiana and Land Without Bread, both Buñuel's surrealism and commentary seem to be a bit obvious and written with wild abandon in Way, which gives it a distinct charm but also a loose center. The point still rings out loud and clear: There is absurdity and hypocrisy in Catholicism that is still accepted and revered no matter what anyone says. You can't even begin to approach that.

Aka La Voie lactée.

Criterion, finally completing this trilogy on DVD, includes on the disc a documentary about the director, and an interview with scholar Ian Christie.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 105 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 15th March 1969

Distributed by: Media Home Entertainment

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 13 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Luis Buñuel

Producer:

Starring: Bernice Hansen as Mama Cat / Three Little Kittens

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