Simon of the Desert
Facts and Figures
Run time: 45 mins
In Theaters: Monday 9th February 1970
Distributed by: Criterion Collection
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Simon of the Desert Movie Review
Simon, which was the last of three films Buñuel made with Brook, Pinal, and Pinal's husband/producer Gustavo Alatriste, notoriously ran out of funding before it was completed, but its hard to imagine a more mainlined shot of Buñuel's Kool-Aid than the resulting 45-minute acid trip through heaven, hell, and the cracked earth. Resilient and complex despite its short narrative, Buñuel fashioned this outlandishly critical work from the story of the Syria-born Simeon Stylites the Elder, who started studying Christianity when he was 16 and then spent the rest of his life (37 years) praying on top of pillars.
Though this particular adherent allows a perfect setting for Buñuel to exercise his flippantly-controversial distaste for Judeo-Christian ethics, this also gives the director the perfect setting for one of his most radical bouts of experimentation and hallucinatory trickery. In his last altercation with the Devil, who arrives in a self-propelled casket, the final temptation is offered, sending Simeon and the Devil to a Bowery rock club where the kids are gyrating to a dance called "Radioactive Flesh." Simeon threatens to leave, but the Devil reminds him that he never will be able to. Drinking, listening to rock music, and dancing: the poor bastard!
Like The Milky Way, Simon serves as a perfect introduction for Buñuel neophytes to begin to find their way through the filmmaker's devious groove. Much more accessible than his later works and not nearly as dense as something like Viridiana, Simon streamlines the message and never begins to wear on your nerves, yet still retains the trademark nuances. Besides the heavily bestial intimations between a dwarf and his goat and Pinal sporting a beard as she shows some leg, the best moment involves an ancient witch running through the desert, naked as a jaybird, cursing the would-be saint. The moment gives Carlos Reygadas' Japón a run for its money.
What's always interesting about Buñuel, and why his pertinence remains, is how oddly plainspoken he is about religion and reality. If you didn't know any better, or if that magical blast to NYC had halted on Mexican soil, Simon could be taken as a very straightforward retelling of Simeon's struggles with sinning and his legions of followers. Obviously not one to paint a character of such high moral standards as without flaw, however, the director also shows the insufferable nature of such idols. You could forget how Buñuel charges all devout followers as weak-willed and easy to tempt and you would still have this poignant question: Who, in the name of all things Holy, would ever want to hang out, let alone follow, this bearded horse's ass?
Aka Simón del desierto.