A municipal transit company decides to retire one of its streetcars, but after a night of drinking, two of the company’s workers, Juan (Carlos Navarro) and Tarrajas (Fernando Soto), decide to take the streetcar out for one last trip, subsequently perpetuating a series of cosmic encounters around Mexico City. Incredibly photographed by Raúl Martínez Solares, Illusion Travels by Streetcar is in many ways Luis Buñuel’s most visually intoxicating creation. Juan and Tarrajas’s decision to borrow the dilapidated but perfectly serviceable streetcar is an unconsciously political move on their part, evoked not only by the countless tableauxs the director mounts inside the car but in the black-and-white compositions that seemingly pit characters against shadowy, angular streets that are alternately, almost confrontationally empty and alive with people. Juan and Tarrajas’s trip through Mexico City represents a resistance movement—a struggle against modernity that summons the will of the city’s people, whose perseverance keeps the duo’s journey alive. Hoping to return the train to its station, the men’s nostalgic trip is repeatedly interrupted by people hoping to hitch a ride from one location to another. Their insistence on submitting to everyone’s whims indicates their unfaltering kindness in much the same way that the company’s refusal to believe that train number 133 was stolen points to a modern society’s delusions of impenetrability. Buñuel uses the train to bring different cross-sections of Mexican society together, repeatedly pitting thematic rivals against each other: past and present, young and old, rich and poor, religion and politics. In the film’s most incredible sequence, the lower-class workers from a slaughterhouse and a drunken political figure collide, their mostly silent battle of wills supervised by a statue of Christ and the pig heads that hang from the bus’s hand-bars. (The confrontation of religious and political symbols seemingly anticipates much of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain.) Buñuel was never much of a sentimentalist, and unfortunately the film doesn’t quite transcend its theoretical import, not so much because the anecdotes are forcibly metaphorical but because the human dramas that play out inside the bus scarcely register, and as such Illusion Travels by Streetcar is the more aesthetically and politically astringent but less heartfelt cousin to the director’s Mexican Bus Ride.
- Bauer International
- 82 min
- Luis Buñuel
- Luis Alcoriza, Juan de la Cabada, José Revueltas, Mauricio de la Serna
- Lilia Prado, Carlos Navarro, Domingo Soler, Fernando Soto, Agustín Isunza, Miguel Manzano, Guillermo Bravo Sosa, José Pidal, Felipe Montoya
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