Sara Nadal-Melsió

Andrew W. Mellon Penn Faculty Fellow in the Humanities

20042005 Forum on Sleep and Dreams

Sara Nadal-Melsió

Assistant Professor, Romance Languages

André Bazin and Luís Buñuel: Film as an Eschatological Dream

The strategic functions of death and physicality in Luís Buñuel’s only “documentary,” Las Hurdes (1932), can be read as an instance of André Bazin’s critical concept of “corporeal realism.” Corporeal realism would seem at odds with Buñuel’s self-professed surrealism and its immersion in a dream of the unconscious. However, in Buñuel’s eschatological imagination, death emerges as the materiality of the dream itself. Thus, Buñuel’s Las Hurdes takes the form of a litany of the dead, an eschatological dream that challenges surrealist escapism in the 1930s. 

Corporeal realism functions in the film as radical political intervention that challenges surrealism’s limitations and emerges as an expression of Buñuel’s fidelity to the hurdano reality as “event.” Such an event is signified by the hurdanos unique proximity to death, as they lay waiting, asleep, dreaming of their eschatological nightmare. Las Hurdes bears witness to both their sleeping and their dying and constantly underscores the camera’s inability to distinguish between the two. 

Thus, corporeal realism in film emerges as the interruption of the mimetic as repetition, as a redemptive invocation to the impossibility to repeat because the corporeal is always at the mercy of time, i.e., death. Both in Bazin’s theory and in Buñuel’s praxis, film’s eschatology emerges as a form of redemption, as an expressive dream and as a testimony to its own corporeal defeat. Dr. Nadal-Melsió underscores both the possibilities and the epistemological limitations of film as an aesthetic form with ontological aspirations.