La Mort en ce jardin

France-Mexico 1956, 104 mins
Director: Luis Buñuel

When political unrest hits a South American diamond-mining community, a motley group make their escape, only to fall foul of the many dangers of the jungle, not least their own conflicting personalities. Piccoli, in the first of his six films for Buñuel, relished the role of a flawed missionary priest; though an adventure-thriller, this is also one of the director’s piercing critiques of Christian dogma.

A rarefied head-scratcher from the exhumed outlands of Luis Buñuel’s world-class filmography, La Mort en ce jardin is a sweaty, politically radical Wages of Fear-style jungle drama that segues into a lost-in-the-wilderness survival saga reminiscent of Herzog decades before the fact. It was shot in eye-popping colour during Buñuel’s supposedly ‘overlooked’ Mexican period, with a famous French cast (Simone Signoret, Michel Piccoli, Charles Vanel).

It is a forgotten film, but not an anomaly – by 1955 Buñuel had left the ghetto of Mexican cinema to become an intercontinental figure, making films in France as well as Mexico before finally returning to Spain, temporarily, for the career-spike begun by Viridiana in 1961. One of many early Buñuels rarely if ever seen or made available since its scattershot release, La Mort en ce jardin hums with the master’s jaundiced love of irrationality, seeping out of what is an ostensibly orthodox adventure tale, set in an unnamed South American craphole where diamond mines are the only industry and French the only tongue, and exploring the suffocating wilderness for the difference between it and the domains considered fit for human society.

The action begins when the local government declares ownership of the region’s individual miners’ stakes, instigating a full-on (and gun-toting) insurrection that sucks in a wandering American tough guy (Georges Marchal), a malcontented hooker (Signoret), her old but goodhearted miner-beau (Vanel), and a naive priest (Piccoli). Nearly everybody except Vanel is a mercenary bastard, with the additional exception, surprisingly, of Piccoli’s reverend, a man so reasonable and humane that he may be the only cleric in the world’s most famous atheistic filmography who isn’t a vicious hypocrite. When the rebellion heats up and the authorities clamp down, the four hijack a boat and head downriver through the rainforest, into proto-Herzog wilderness (the characters gripe about the density and ceaseless appetite of the jungle in virtually the same terms as Herzog does in Burden of Dreams, and Michèle Girardon, as Vanel’s mute daughter, is a startling analogue for Aguirre’s Helena Rojo).

The ‘garden’ of the title is Edenic only ironically. It turns out that Buñuel was no slouch in on-location action staging: nature becomes a malevolent character as it rarely did at the time, and it pays to remember that Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai didn’t mark this path in postwar movie-making until the following year. But all the same, Buñuel will out, especially once the travellers begin to go mad in the wild and discover the ruins of a crashed plane, littering the bush with inappropriate and useless objects.
Michael Atkinson, Sight and Sound, February 2010

Director: Luis Buñuel
Production Companies: Film Dismage, Producciones Tepeyac *
Executive Producer: Léon Carré *
Presented by: Jacques Mage
Presented by/Producer: Óscar Dancigers
Production Manager: Alberto Ferrer
Administrator: Alberto Salazar
Assistant Directors: Dossia Mage, Ignacio Villareal
Script Supervisors: Colette Crochot, Javier Carreño
Adaptation: Luís Alcoriza, Luis Buñuel, Raymond Queneau
Dialogue: Raymond Queneau, Gabriel Arout
Based on the novel by: José-André Lacour
Director of Photography: Jorge Stahl Jr
Stills Photography: Othón Argumedo
Editors: Marguerite Renoir, Denise Charvein
Assistant [Editor]: Sylvie Blanc
Assistant Editor: Alberto Valenzuela *
Art Director: Edward Fitzgerald
Costumes: Georgette Somohano
Key Make-up: Román Juárez
Colour Laboratory: Franay LTC
Opticals: Lax
Music: Paul Misraki
Sound Recording: Maurice Laroche
Sound System: Western Electric
Sound Re-recording: Galdino Samperio *
Filmed at estudios Tepeyac

Simone Signoret (Djin)
Charles Vanel (Castin)
Georges Marchal (Chark)
Michel Piccoli (Father Lizardi)
Tito Junco (Chenko)
Raúl Ramírez (Alvaro)
Luis-Aceves Castañeda (Alberto)
Jorge Martinez De Hoyos (Captain Ferrero)
Alberto Pedret (Jimenez)
Marc Lambert, Stefani (miners)
Michèle Girardon (María Castin)

France-Mexico 1956
104 mins


La Mort en ce jardin (Evil Eden)
Thu 1 Jun 20:35; Tue 6 Jun 18:15
Le Mépris (Contempt)
From Fri 2 Jun
The Diary of a Chambermaid (Le journal d’une femme de chambre)
Fri 2 Jun 18:15; Fri 16 Jun 20:55
Belle de jour
Fri 2 Jun 20:40; Sun 25 Jun 18:45
Les Choses de la vie (The Things of Life)
Sat 3 Jun 12:30; Tue 13 Jun 20:45
Sat 3 Jun 15:00; Wed 14 Jun 18:15
La Grande Bouffe (Blow-Out)
Sat 3 Jun 20:30; Mon 12 Jun 18:10
Ten Days’ Wonder (La Décade prodigeuse)
Sun 4 Jun 15:20; Sat 17 Jun 20:40
Vincent, François, Paul et les autres
Sun 4 Jun 18:00; Sun 18 Jun 13:10
Beyond Good and Evil: The Discreet Charm of Michel Piccoli
Mon 5 Jun 18:15
Tue 6 Jun 21:00; Fri 16 Jun 18:20
Spoiled Children (Des enfants gatés)
Wed 7 Jun 18:10; Mon 12 Jun 20:40
Une chambre en ville (A Room in Town)
Wed 14 Jun 20:45; Sat 24 Jun 13:00
Mauvais sang (The Night Is Young)
Sat 17 Jun 15:15; Thu 22 Jun 20:40
Milou en mai (Milou in May)
Sun 18 Jun 16:00; Mon 26 Jun 20:40
Belle toujours
Wed 21 Jun 20:50; Sun 25 Jun 16:30
La Belle Noiseuse
Sat 24 Jun 15:20; Wed 28 Jun 18:10
Habemus Papam – We Have a Pope
Sun 25 Jun 14:00; Thu 29 Jun 20:45

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