21 March 2010

Gran Casino.

Buñuel's first directorial assignment in Mexico, and the closest film following L'Age d'Or, by release date, that I have been able to see, Gran Casino is a murder thriller set predominantly in a casino/hotel environment. An oil field is an intermittent backdrop, the politics of which serve as the narrative's catalyst, and there are also musical sequences. In a brief synopsis it sounds almost promising; the tragedy, in my opinion, is that Buñuel was simply a director-for-hire and the film plays out on the wheels of convention. It's all musical melodrama.

Truthfully, I wish I could've experienced the full depth of the musical melodrama, whatever it may be. Someone, Lions Gate or otherwise, pulled a real fuck you for the dvd release and only subtitled the dialogue. All musical sequences are without subtitles - so for me part of this film is missing. Some of the scenes are visually appealing and work purely visually, including the spotlight number and the flashlight dance routine, but especially during clear moments of expository driven music, or Mercedes simply singing by a piano, subtitles are essential.

And when I speak of the visual appeal of the music sequences, I'm referring also to a desire on my part to search out Buñuel in the film. I get a real kick considering what his directing of a music number would have been like. I approached the 63 year old film as a scavenger hunt, desiring to find the little objects of Buñuel's personality hidden within the film. This is one clear example:

Gerardo is in Mercedes's hotel room. Her brother Jose has been murdered by the rival oil baron. Behind the curtain awaits another murderer. Mercedes notices his feet sticking out beneath the curtains, and Gerardo approaches with a statue in hand. Gerardo strikes at the curtains, and Buñuel cuts to this shot:

The curtains superimposed over the image of a glass shattering.

There's then a scene of henchmen coming to collect Gerardo's dead body. They call up to the room from the street. Mercedes calls down that there is no body. They say something like "Oh, I guess it's better there's no dead body" (a pretty funny line), and they leave.

Gerardo and Mercedes then approach the curtains:

And Gerardo pulls the curtains open:

It's a closet, in reality there was no glass behind the curtains. Buñuel has thus used the shattering glass as a metaphor for the man's head being crushed. This visual concept is terribly arresting and creative. Its use opens my perspective on physical harm, breaking glass, and the filmic relation possible between the two. It's a total Buñuelian moment.

Other motifs in Gran Casino, visual and narrative, seldom reach this level of imagination. It is steeped in strokes of high-adventure and colossal-risk, which I don't mind (who minds oil derricks as scenery?), but the part of me that begins to accept these everyday action thriller elements is most challenged when a truly idiosyncratic and imaginative moment bursts out of the framework. And then I remember what cinema really is, what it's true potential is.

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