The Milky Way (1969)

30 07 2008

First, a little personal background information: about a year, Luis Buñuel was one of my favorite directors. However, it’s been about the same amount of time since I’ve last seen a film from him. Taking that into account, this probably wasn’t the best place to get re-acquainted considering how specific most of the satire is, but still, I did enjoy it a great deal. It probably doesn’t hurt that I’ve been (re)watching a lot of Mr. Show episodes lately, which definitely displays the same type of absurdism. On a similar note, this seems to have had a direct influence on Monty Python, which would account for the Mr. Show connection. In other words, a wonderful opportunity for Buñuel to flex his comedic muscles, but not quite a masterpiece.

Pierre and Jean are two drifters making their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain to visit the shrine of Saint James. Their pilgrimage is often stopped by many figures, both real (and historically relevant) and fictional. These figures all have their own absurd anecdotes, which are juggled with Pierre and Jean’s pilgrimage as well as scenes from the life of Jesus.

Like the other two films (The Phantom of Liberty and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) in Buñuel’s proposed trilogy, The Milky Way rejects a single and straight-forward narrative and instead, branches off into a series of sub-plots that could be seen simply as vignettes. Of course, since this is Buñuel, all of these stories seem to lack common sense, which is also what makes them so great. Perhaps some bits verge of the side of being childish, but one never gets the feeling of “weird for weirdness” sake. In other words, the more “out-there” aspects of the film work because they are not mindlessly inserted. At the same time, Buñuel does not intellectualize the meaning of his sequences. They aren’t stiff chess pieces for metaphors, but natural and believable characters in absurd situations.

What I’m saying is not all that critical or even reflective, but that only speaks to the impenetrable nature of Buñuel’s universe. To classify him simply as a surrealist would overlook some of the best things he has to offer as a filmmaker. There’s something very basic, in a positive sense, about his work. As if he has gone back to the structure of a simple story, and removed most of what is inherently implied in most films. The result is always low-key, but it perfectly compliments the quiet and deadpan humor present in almost all of his films. This is no exception. One of Buñuel’s easiest to enjoy, as well as one of his most outrightly humorous.