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Review: Susana

While the melodrama is certainly potent, Susana lacks considerable bite.

Photo: Plexus

Mexican ambassadors and nationalists called Los Olvidados a crime against the state and while Luis Buñuel’s friend Georges Sadoul found the director’s depiction of police and state officials “too bourgeois,” surrealists and intellectuals alike had nothing but praise for the film. Buñuel loathed the film’s ridiculous French subtitle Pitié pour eux (Pity on Them) yet the film’s international success meant that Mexico would soon come around. That same year, Buñuel would direct Susana (The Devil and the Flesh), possibly the most unspectacular film of his career. Buñuel’s perfectly routine melodrama (a remake of Alexander Korda’s 1929 The Squall) begins evocatively enough inside the Reformatorio del Estado with the titular heroine (Rosita Quintana) staring at the silhouette of a cross reflected on the floor from a nearby windowsill. She prays to God for forgiveness (“Dear God! You made me the way I am!”), begs for a miracle, and receives it in the form of Herculean strength (or possibly blind luck) when the bars of her cell’s windowsill miraculously come loose.

Sneaking into the rainy night, Susana finds asylum inside a horse ranch owned by Don Guadalupe (Fernando Soler) and his proper wife Doña Carmen (Matilde Palou), operated by the chauvinistic Jesus and kept clean by the ultra-religious Felisa (María Gentil Arcos). “It seems as if there is a demon loose out here,” says Felisa soon after Don Guadalupe’s favorite mare gives birth to a stillborn colt. A flustered Susana shows up at their front door, bemoans her foster father’s sexual indiscretions and is soon taken in by Doña Carmen as her surrogate daughter. Buñuel implies that an untamed Susana was imprisoned because of her sexual voraciousness and while the film can be read as an assault on puritanical thought, Buñuel noticeably plays it safe. The film’s sympathetic opening scene suggests that Susana has been imprisoned against her own will and, while she may pray to God out of convenience, she is too erratically salacious to deserve much sympathy and never quite naughty enough to leave much of an impression.

When the ranch’s foreman learns of her escape from the asylum, Susana welcomes his sexual advances in return for his silence. Soon she falls for both Guadalupe and his bookish son Alberto (Luis López Somoza) yet things don’t get interesting until Doña Carmen deliriously whips Susana for poisoning her family. Felisia’s overzealous Catholicism is as overwrought as the comparisons between Susana (read: unbridled female sexuality) and Lozana, Guadalupe’s prized filly. “We all feel more comfortable when we live in our rightful place,” says Doña Carmen when she learns of Susana’s devilish nature. The family’s sense of decency is threatened but the young girl is quickly caught in the act. A curiously passive Buñuel has this “bitch of bad breeding” wisked off with not so much as an exorcism and it’s not long before Lozana regains her strength and the family returns to normalcy. While the melodrama is certainly potent, Susana lacks considerable bite. “I feel I didn’t emphasize the irony enough,” Buñuel later admitted.

Cast: Fernando Soler, Rosita Quintana, Víctor Manuel Mendoza, Matilde Palou, María Gentil Arcos, Luis López Somoza, Rafael Icardo Director: Luis Buñuel Screenwriter: Luis Buñuel, Jaime Salvador, Rodolfo Usigli Distributor: Plexus Running Time: 86 min Rating: NR Year: 1951 Buy: Video

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