Combustible Celluloid
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With: Paul Frankeur, Laurent Terzieff, Alain Cuny, Edith Scob, Bernard Verley, François Maistre, Claude Cerval, Muni, Julien Bertheau, Ellen Bahl, Michel Piccoli, Agnès Capri, Michel Etcheverry, Pierre Clémenti, Georges Marchal, Jean Piat, Denis Manuel, Daniel Pilon, Claudio Brook, Julien Guiomar, Marcel Pérès, Delphine Seyrig
Written by: Jean-Claude Carrière, Luis Buñuel
Directed by: Luis Buñuel
MPAA Rating: PG
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 101
Date: 15/03/1969

The Milky Way (1969)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Milk' Shake

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 2000, Rialto Pictures announced that they would be restoring and re-releasing five films from Luis Buñuel. Seven years later, the fifth and final film, The Milky Way (1969), is finally available on DVD, thanks to the Criterion Collection; the first four are: Diary of a Chambermaid (1964), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), The Phantom of Liberty (1974) and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). All five are co-written by Jean-Claude Carrière, and perhaps the simplest observation about their working relationship is that they got better with practice. Diary of a Chambermaid is the least interesting of their films, and the final three rank among Buñuel's greatest. That puts The Milky Way somewhere in the middle. From the start, however, it shows Buñuel's distinctive personality and style.

Two French pilgrims, Pierre (Paul Frankeur) and Jean (Laurent Terzieff), make their way to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. That's the movie's main thread, but springing from there, Buñuel and Carrière invent a series of diversions, each containing some kind of commentary on religion. These sequences take place in the present and in the past with no transitions. One moment a character tells a story about his family and the next, we see a "flashback," in which Jesus Christ decides not to shave off his beard. We also meet the Marquis de Sade (Michel Piccoli), the Virgin Mary, the devil and many others with their own theories on faith and religion. (One theory comes from an escaped lunatic disguised as a priest.)

Some of Buñuel's other films are equally non-linear (L'Age d'Or, The Phantom of Liberty, etc.), but they at least have a singular, specific drive, whereas The Milky Way feels a bit random. Buñuel knew he would be pushing buttons and poking at sacred cows, and perhaps that made him either too lazy or too careful. Still, you can feel the master laughing heartily at his own hijinks, and that takes away all pretension and makes the film interesting. (Not to be confused with Leo McCarey's 1936 comedy of the same name, starring Harold Lloyd.)

The Criterion Collection's 2007 DVD comes with a video introduction by Carrière, a video interview (not a commentary track) by Criterion regular, film scholar Ian Christie, a documentary, "Luis Buñuel: Atheist Thanks to God," a trailer and liner notes with new essays and a Buñuel interview. In 2019, Kino Lorber released a new Blu-ray (and a DVD), with a new transfer, brighter and crisper. Bonuses include a commentary track by film critic Nick Pinkerton, a video interview with Carrière (about 18 mins.), an analysis of the movie by Professor Peter W. Evans (about 32 mins.), and trailers for this and Death in the Garden. A 12-page liner notes booklet features an essay by film critic Adam Nayman.

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