DEATH IN THE GARDEN (Luis Buñuel, 1956, France)
Shark is a predatory fugitive who attempts escape from the poisonous Garden of Eden while leading his cohorts towards freedom, but they must first free themselves from temptation. Director Luis Buñuel condemns both the Spanish government and ordained religiosity by cross-examining the testimony of five disparate individuals without judgment, their guilt being their fragile humanity.
Shark is a renegade, on the run from the Police for a crime he says he didn’t commit but whose guilt is never averred in the story. His motive begins as self-preservation but he transforms into the leader whose goal is helping the others survive in the jungle. Djin is a prostitute, a genie who weaves a magical spell of sexuality over the aged miner Castin: she is a selfish woman who decides to take advantage of the old man for his wealth, but her feelings soon change as she peers deep into the abyss of her soul. Castin is the elderly diamond-miner who falls in love, father to a deaf-mute daughter Maria in whom he has worked these many years to pay for her operation. But his good intentions are soon corrupted by desire. Father Lizardi is a Catholic Priest whose calling is to save these wretched creatures from sin, and though his name is disparaging his deeds are not: he is the only character to remain true to his nature but unable to adapt…and it ends in his destruction.
Buñuel splits the narrative in half with the opening sequence depicting rampant government corruption as the Army strong-arms the local miners into relinquishing their claims. Without Rule of Law, the worker’s only recourse is a violent and bloody revolt, and Castin is unjustly accused of instigating the riot. Shark is also arrested without warrant and striped of his money, betrayed by Djin. Father Lizardi witnesses this injustice but is helpless; his Good Books’ hallowed words only hollow advice. Together, the group escapes from the pursuing Amy and becomes lost in the dense jungle, which completes the second half of the film. Shark leads them towards salvation but they are each lost in themselves. Starving, their appetites are teased by a snake whose meat offers little substance and whom ants soon consume. The Father is about to sacrifice his Bible to start a cooking fire and here he begins to come down to Earth from his Heavenly perch. But they are fed by manna from above, as they scavenge food from the wreckage of an airplane. Father Lizardi feels morally obligated to bury the dead, and even he wonders at the death of fifty innocents that has saved their tiny group: he realizes his mythology can’t explain this cruel coincidence and injustice.
With their salvation assured, Castin’s wicked jealousy rings out with a sharp rapport: he attempts to murder Shark and his betrayed betrothed. In another violent coup, only Shark and Marie survive, their moral compass reversed but pointed in the right direction: down the long and winding river. Final Grade: (B)