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DEATH IN THE GARDEN (La mort en ce jardin) (director/writer: Luis Buñuel; screenwriters: based on the novel by Jose-Andre Lacour/Raymond Queneau/Luis Alcoriza/Gabriel Arout; cinematographer: Jorge Stahl Jr.; editors: Denise Charvein/Marguerite Renoir/Luis Buñuel; music: Paul Misraki; cast: Simone Signoret (Djin), Charles Vanel (Castin), Georges Marchal (Shark), Michèle Girardon (María Castin), Michel Piccoli (Father Lizardi), Tito Junco (Chenko), Raúl Ramirez (Álvaro), Luis Aceves Castañeda (Alberto), Jorge Martinez de Hoyos (Captain Ferrero); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Óscar Dancigers/David Mage; TransFlux; 1956-France/Mexico-in French & some Spanish with English subtitles)
“Brilliant neglected action/adventure film written and directed by Luis Buñuel.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Brilliant neglected action/adventure film written and directed by Luis Buñuel (“Tristana”/”The Phantom of Liberty”/”Belle de Jour”), cowritten by avant garde writer Raymond Queneau, Gabriel Arout and Luis Alcoriza. Buñuel made it during his Mexican period, but with mostly French actors. It’s based on the novel by Jose-Andre Lacour. It was one of Buñuel’s few commercial ventures.

The Third World strife film is set in 1945 at a mining outpost in Guluva Valley, in an unnamed fascist South American country (I think it’s Bolivia) that borders Brazil. When the Governor issues a proclamation forcing the French foreigners to give up their claims to the diamonds, the two hundred prospectors overtake the forty soldiers, under the command of the venal Captain Ferrero (Jorge Martinez de Hoyos). He’s replaced by a rigid colonel, who arrests the captain for corruption and falsely charges the materialistic dreamer, 68-year-old Castin (Charles Vanel), with being the ring leader. The lust-driven old fool Castin and his helpless innocent pretty teenager deaf-mute daughter Maria (Michèle Girardon), try to escape by boat to Brazil with a band of questionable ill-starred fugitives that include the loutish bank robber rogue Shark (Georges Marchal), who escapes from jail; the untrustworthy boat captain Chenko (Tito Junco), who schemes to turn the wanted men over to the army for the reward; the cold-hearted local whore Djin (Simone Signoret), who is working a racket with Chenko and Ferrero and also has her hooks into Castin who wants to marry the gold digging whore and open a restaurant in Marseilles; and a naive self-righteous and dogmatic Bible-thumping priest missionary named Father Lizardi (Michel Piccoli), who came here to convert Indians and somehow was in the wrong place at the wrong time preaching his submission theme in a place where the Bible goes for squat.

When the fleeing party are forced to abandon their boat because of army boat patrols, they flee in the dense jungle and must battle betrayal, starvation, greed, their bourgeois aspirations, exhaustion, snakes, depression, madness, ill-advised romances and being hopelessly lost. The jungle adventure will allow only the rogue and the innocent one to survive, but the miracle that saves their lives is finding a wrecked plane with provisions in the jungle that cost the lives of fifty others. This pulsating adventure tale is filled with philosophical musings, the questioning of the certainty of beliefs and the examination of Marxist truths under duress. It’s a Buñuel film alright filled with hints of surrealism and plenty of unique Buñuel moments, but with a potboiler story line that even a Sam Fuller might not match in intensity, action and perversity.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”