mercredi 27 mars 2013

My Last Breath by Luis Bunuel (1983)

Bunuel by Salvador Dali
Salman Rushdie calls Spanish film director Luis Bunuel's memoir My Last Breath, “pure delight”. I agree and would add that from the dedication page, through the photographs and to his last chapter, aptly-titled Swan Song (Bunuel died shortly after the book was finished), Bunuel treats the reader to an entertaining, sensitive chronicle of his personal and professional life.

My Last Breath is also a work of art in and of itself, demonstrating how beautifully and precisely the filmic expertise of its creator has been adapted to the the written word. Descriptions are not overly long or adjective-heavy but they are carefully measured so that scene after scene opens, reveals a moment, an incident, then closes and a new scene opens elsewhere in time, giving us another detail or an idea which eventually leads to a full and satisfying story. Here is a filmmaker who is able to use words as effectively as celluloid to create close-ups, panoramic shots and flashbacks to relay a story.

Memory, the first chapter, lasting a mere three pages, introduces us to Bunuel's skills. In these dozen paragraphs, he tells us about the relationship of memory to old age, identity, fidelity and tragedy. Here is the first paragraph:

During the last ten years of her life, my mother gradually lost her memory. When I went to see her in Saragossa, where she lived with my brothers, I watched the way she read magazines, turning the pages carefully, one by one, from the first to the last. When she finished, I'd take the magazine from her, then give it back, only to see her leaf through it again, slowly, page by page.

Imagine this scene in a film: short, compact, silent, devastating....

Luis Bunuel was, of course, best known for his surrealist films, his collaborations with Salvador Dali (indulging as he did, in “vestimentary provocation”), his friendship with Federico Garcia Lorca but above all, he was a storyteller of great elegance.

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