Ranking: #104/111

Director: Luis Buñuel (Spain/Mexico)      

Genre: Spiritual Drama

Buñuel’s stark grey palette is the ideal filmic “paint” for this moving portrait of Christian spirituality coming face to face with a brutish social reality. Padre Nazario, a Catholic priest living in poverty, is trying to live out a life of love and charity in a poor community overwhelmed by financial and mental health problems. He shows compassion for the down and out and very poor, as commanded in the teachings of Christ. He even cares for Beatriz, who has psychotic episodes and has become suicidal after endless abuse by her lover, Pinto. And, the few possessions the priest does have ended up getting stolen. It’s an unsafe, unforgiving and largely unloving society to which he’s been called as padre.

However, it isn’t long before Nazario’s kindness to the poor and the downbeat causes him trouble. After looking after a volatile prostitute, called Andara, who is running from the law, she returns the favour by starting a fire in his sparsely furnished rented dwelling.

Soon afterwards, he is forced to become a wandering beggar with no home or possessions. The rest of the movie is an examination of the resoluteness of his faith and his character under these extreme conditions. And Nazario keeps his faith until the end. Some of the poor think of him as a saint. Buñuel makes his central character earn the respect of the outcasts of society, as well as the respect of the viewer.

The Oxford History of World Cinema described the film as a “portrayal of a quixotic religiosity against brutish reality” (p. 432).

The movie is a treasure of world cinema, a powerful, sincere portrait of how hard it is to live out an idealistic philosophy of life in such harsh conditions. Conveying such an honest and evocative portrait of a humble man of faith, who is sorely tested in his life, the film is akin to Bresson’s excellent Diary of a Country Priest.

Notably, there’s no music in the film until the drum beats at the end. This shows the director’s commitment to avoid all sentimentality. What counts for him is authenticity. It almost has to be a starkly made film to reflect the rigors of the spiritual tests undergone by the hero on his journey of faith, which turns out to be a purification process, a purification that can only happen through the experience of suffering.