This is the twenty-sixth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 26 is called "Transcendental Style in Film Week".
In 1972, Paul Schrader wrote a book on the wave of slow, contemplative art house cinema entitled "Transcendental style in film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer". In it, he examines the three titular directors' works and how their films apply a certain style that seems to transcend language. The original book focuses on the directors named, though in 2018, Schrader released a updated version with a new introduction that applies his framework to the 50+ years of cinema following the original publishing. Feel free to select a film from either group of films.
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen mentioned in Paul Schrader's "Transcendental Style in Film". Here is the original list of films and here is the list that includes all of the films mentioned in the new introduction.
I'm not sure how closely Simon of the Desert fits into a compendium of slow cinema. After all, it's only 45 minutes long ... how slow could it be? It's also interesting to consider what Buñuel is telling us about contemplative film (or anything else). The titular Simon spends his time atop a column, trying to connect with God through his ascetic life and near-constant examination of himself and the world. In short, Simon's life is contemplative to an extreme. But despite his efforts, his life is also meaningless ... at the least, his attempts to commune with God do not lead to enlightenment, and his actions are never as helpful as might be hoped. (Early on, he cures a man whose hands were cut off because he was a thief, restoring the hands to their original state. The man immediately smacks one of his kids upside the head.) If Simon is any example, Buñuel thinks the contemplative life is worthy of our disdain.
I'm surely looking at this wrong. No matter that I'm doing the Challenge, it doesn't really matter how the film fits into Schrader's framework. So from here, I'll try to take Simon of the Desert as its own work.
There are two stories about why it is so short. One is that the money ran out, so Buñuel came up with a quick (nonsensical) ending and finished. The other comes from Silvia Pinal, who plays Satan. She claims that the film was originally to be part of a three-piece anthology film, but that the concept didn't pan out (she blames herself) and so Buñuel just released his short movie as is. In any event, the ending is indeed nonsensical (it takes place in the 5th century, but at the end it jumps unexplained into the 1960s). Buñuel's work is full of things that don't make obvious sense, so I don't think the end hurts the film that much. But it is an abrupt break ... it's not like the movie is full of time shifts, just the one at the end.
Pinal makes a great Satan, because she is trying to make Simon give up his mission, and she exudes the kind of sexuality that clearly affects Simon. Does she break him down? It's hard to say ... if you count the sudden trip forward, when she and Simon are in a discotheque, perhaps she has succeeded. But ultimately, Buñuel is less interested in Simon's persistence and more interested in showing what a foolish mission it is. This is not a religious movie ... it's anti-religion.
I've liked every Buñuel film I have seen, including Simon of the Desert, with Los Olvidados at the top. Simon of the Desert strikes me as lesser Buñuel. #912 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.