Plot: What’s it about?
As if it is ever simple to draft a synopsis for a Luis Bunuel picture, this time around the task is even more difficult. The story centers on two French beggars and their journey of faith. The two plan to travel to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, no small feat and quite an arduous journey indeed. As they walk the path to their destination, they encounter various religious elements all of kinds. This is where the synopsis becomes hard to write, since basically the trip is a one note affair, a series of simplistic and repetitive insults toward the Catholic Church. So instead of a narrative, this is more like a series of skits, each one with the same basic message, driven down our throats. The trip shows us how Jesus handled his beard, children with the stigmata, and more, all done to allow Bunuel to vent his religious frustrations.
The films of Luis Bunuel are the kind that divide audiences, even among his most devoted fans. He has said that The Milky Way is part of a trilogy of sorts, along with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Phantom of Liberty, a three part search for truth, in his words. I have seen all three and while the other two connected with me on some level, I was left cold as I watched The Milky Way. I am not easily offended, nor a deeply religious person, but Bunuel seems to be harsher here than normal and even inhuman, which throws off the balance of the work. In his assault style approach, there is very little of the surreal, subtle elements that make his films so unique. I am sure others would debate that and say it is interpretation, but the bottom line is that I just didn’t click with this movie at all. As usual, Criterion has drummed up an impressive presentation, but this one is best suited as a rental, even to Bunuel devotees.
Video: How does it look?
The Milky Way is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. knew this would look good, but it is even better than expected, some terrific work here indeed. I wouldn’t say this is a pristine, reference level treatment, but it is the best I’ve ever seen the flick look on home video, so I am most pleased. The print looks very clean, with minimal debris and other problems, so the image is allowed to shine and that it does. The image looks great and shows more sharpness than expected, which is always good news. Another great looking transfer from Criterion, as expected.
Audio: How does it sound?
This disc uses a mono track in the original French language, which is a basic, but adequate effort in all respects. This was a low impact feature and as such, dynamic presence doesn’t abound in this mix. I do think the elements seem a little thin at times, but I think is due to the source materials and not this audio transfer. The musical score, sound effects, and vocals all surface in solid form, no real complaints to be made in the least. I think the thin presence might throw off some viewers, but I think this is about as good as this one’s ever going to sound. This disc also includes optional English subtitles
Supplements: What are the extras?
The most substantial extra is Luis Bunuel: Atheist Thanks to God, which runs about half an hour and has interviews with friends & colleagues of the director. If you enjoyed the film, then you’ll find this to be worthwhile, though it does seem a bit rushed in some places. This disc also includes new interviews with writer Jean-Claude Carriere and film scholar Ian Christie, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.