Luis Buñuel studied in Madrid, where contemporaries included Salvador Dali and Federico Lorca — the former was to help him with his first film, Un Chien Andalou in 1929, just 17 minutes long but still recognised as the work of a master. Buñuel himself appears in the opening scene of the film, sharpening a razor until it glistens. Next we see him slice through the eye of a woman, a horribly realistic effect achieved on screen by using a cow’s eye for the close-up. A myriad of random, frequently hilarious scenes follow to make this film the first true Surrealist movie.
Dali and Buñuel paired up again the following year for L’Age d’Or, a second Surrealist classic that relentlessly attacks the church and the middle classes, themes that would preoccupy the director for the rest of his career. In the 30s, Buñuel found it increasingly difficult to secure work in Spain and emigrated to Los Angeles after the Civil War. He worked as a film dubber for Warners and his career went into decline until he relocated to Mexico in the late 40s. In 1950, he shot back to fame with a stunning study of Mexican street urchins Los Olvidados which won him the director’s award at Cannes.
In 1961, General Franco, anxious to be seen to be supporting Spanish culture, invited Buñuel back to his native country. His first film back in his homeland, the religious satire Viridiana, was banned in Spain on the grounds of blasphemy, though it won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. His career continued to blossom with The Exterminating Angel, Belle de Jour and That Obscure Object of Desire, just three of his films that were to bring critical acclaim while staying true to his beliefs and passions. Buñuel died in 1983.