Director: Luis Bunuel 

Screenwriter: Jean-Claude Carrière

Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Picolli, Jeanne Moreau, Paul Frankeur, Laurent Terzieff, Fernando Rey, Franco Nero, Stephane Audran, Delphine Seyrig, Jean-Pierre Cassal, Adriana Asti, Julien Bertheau, Jean-Claude Brialy, Carole Bouquet & Angela Molina

Years: 1964 to 1977

Country: France, Italy, Mexico, Spain

BBFC Certification: 18

Studio Canal Vintage World Cinema release this Blu-ray boxset The Essential Collection of films by Spanish director Luis Bunuel. As a whole this collection demonstrates the director’s consistency in producing well made films, exploring un-conventional, and sometimes subversive themes. At the start of his career this Spanish director collaborated with internationally renowned artist Salvador Dali to produce two landmark surrealist short films, Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age d’Or (1930). These two films, not included in the collection, were made in an extreme experimental style, and included infamous scenes of eyeballs being sliced and pianos being dragged across a room. Surrealism was the starting point for Bunuel. He went on to produce at least 30 feature lengths films, first re-locating to Mexico, and then producing films between Mexico, Spain, Italy and France. Of his later films the most well-known is Belle De Jour (1967) starring Catherine Deneuve, which is included in the collection.  His other films are not so well known and have been harder to get hold of. This collection does a good job of making the later films available in an up to date format. It covers the period 1964 (The Diary of a Chambermaid) until 1977 (That Obscure Object of Desire) including eight feature length films and extras. For all of these films Bunuel worked in partnership with screen writer Jean-Claude Carrière.

The Diary of a Chambermaid (1964) is the first film in the collection, and in many ways covers a central theme and approach present in many of these films, namely a satirical portrait of the habits and values of the middle class (the bourgeoisie). The film reworks the nineteenth century novel by Octave Mirbeau which tells the story of Celestine (Jeanne Moreau). She travels from the city to take up a job as a chambermaid in a country home. Celestine gets to know characters linked to every strata of the house (in effect a microcosm of society), a childless couple, the eccentric grandfather, the group of servants, as well as the neighbour (who the family despise). Set in the 1930s the film touches upon the emerging politics of Europe, describing some of the character’s nationalist and anti-semitic tendencies. There is an undercurrent of dark politics, which is oddly amplified by a range of sexual quirks between the different characters. On the surface a realist film of middle class mores, there are frequent excursions in to atmospheric dream like imagery, which provide a surreal and disorientating touch, which is further enhanced by the striking black and white cinematography of Roger Fellous. As with all the films in the collection there is an extra where screenwriter, cast, fans and critics discuss the making of the film and what it is about.

Belle De Jour (1967)  perhaps the most well know of these films, stars Catherine Deneuve as Séverine Serizy. The film’s opening scene is of Severine and her husband Dr. Pierre Serizy (Jean Sorel) riding in a horse drawn carriage, bells are ringing, a sweeping wide angle camera shot of the carriage travelling through a lush Autumnal landscape. The scene is interrupted when the carriage stops, the couple get out of the carriage. What unfolds is an elaborate masochistic fantasy involving Severine being tied up in some woods and whipped by the coachman. In real life the couple live a routine middle class existence in Paris, and their relationship lacks intimacy. Later whilst on a ski- holiday with another couple Severine hears about a mutual friend who works at a brothel in Paris. Once back in Paris, she hears about a high class brothel, which she seeks out and begins her double life as Belle De Jour. The key to this film is the surreal quality where Severine fantasises about being dominated in a degrading way. As viewer we slip in and out of Severine’s fantasy world. The film explores a theory of how repression of sexual intimacy might be linked with sexual perversion. This reading of the film is more fully fleshed out by a practicing psycho-analyst in one of the extras of the film (Perversion or Emancipation). It’s an interesting theory, but whether it is anything more than that who can say. The film was radical in its time because it introduced these ideas to the mainstream. It is also executed in a series of visually stunning scenes. Catherine Deneuve provides a brave and inspired performance. This is an iconic film, well worthy of the Blu-ray quality upgrade.

The Milky Way (1969) stars Paul Frankeur and Laurent Terzieff as two religious pilgrims travelling along a pilgrim route from Paris to Santiago to where St James is reputed to be buried. On their pilgrimage they encounter a number of characters who debate matters of the bible and religious orthodoxy. Filmed in the vivid tones of Eastman colour, the film moves across the French and Spanish landscape, capturing the atmosphere of the time in terms of buildings, cars, traffic on the roads, and people going about their business. The storyline has a flavour of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, although the dominant theme is heterodoxy. Through a broadly comedic means the film exposes how the people in positions of authority (the law, religious institutions, the aristocracy) get to define orthodoxy, and accordingly impose rule. Bunuel once again deconstructs notions of a fallen state of nature, and packs a political message through often surreal means.

Tristana (1970) In this film Catherine Deneuve plays Tristana, an orphan adopted by a nobleman don Lope Garrido (Fernando Rey). Filmed in mute colours, the film is beautiful to look at. It weaves together several different themes, including notions of patriarchy and also female sexuality. Lope Garrido is a conflicted patrician, wanting to both protect Tristana, but also dominate her sexually. She is both his wife and his daughter, both protected and imprisoned. Tristana meets the young artist Horacio Diaz (Franco Nero), and leaves to be with him, but when she loses a leg in an accident, she is conflicted and returns to the man who protected her as an orphan. The film has several iconic scenes, with odd surreal images thrown in to the mix.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) is described as a surreal masterpiece. The film consists of several thematically linked scenes. In some regards it is a comedy of manners, exploring what lies beneath the arbitrary rules of middle society. The plot centres around six middle class couples and their consistently interrupted attempts to have a meal together. In the background are plots involving terrorists, totalitarian military regimes, and the clergy. As with so many of Bunuel’s film, the story exposes the dead weight of authority, and manages to entertain through a series of bizarre and surreal scenes.

Phantom of Liberty (1974) is another surrealist comedy, having a non linear plot structure. Through a series of odd set ups and encounters, an example being a dinner party where each guest is sat on a toilet and goes to the bathroom to eat their meal, the film explores dreams and a lurking sense of anxiety. As with the other films the established law, social order, and dominant moral system is exposed.

That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) is the last film in the collection. It stars both Carole Bouquet & Angela Molina as Conchita (the object of desire) who is pursued by wealthy widower Mathieu (Fernando Rey). The story is told by Mathieu in a train compartment of assorted characters travelling from Seville to Paris. It’s the story of a man imprisoned by his desire for a woman old enough to be his daughter, and to that regard enables his own humilitation.


The Essential Collection is a 7 Disc Set, which includes many extras:

That Obscure Object of Desire

  • New Jean-Claude Carriere interview
  • New Aesthetics of the Irrational: ICA Q&A with Jean-Claude Carriere and Diego Bunuel hosted by Tim Robey
  • Interview with Carlos Saura
  • The arbitrariness of desire by Jean-Claude Carriere
  • Lady Doubles – interview with Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina
  • Portrait of an impatient filmmaker, Luis Bunuel – Interview with Pierre Lady and Edmond Richard

Belle De Jour – New 50th Anniversary Restoration

  • New Jean-Claude Carriere interview
  • New Masterclass with Diego Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere (1 hour+)
  • New Trailer
  • Commentary by professor Peter W. Evans
  • The Last Script (1:34:33)
  • A Story of Perversion or Emancipation? – Interview with Dr Sylvain Mimoun (29:39 in PAL)

Diary of a Chambermaid

  • Extras:
  • An Angel in the Marshes doc (26 minutes)

Phantom of Liberty

  • New Jean-Claude Carriere interview
  • New Critical Analysis by professor Peter W. Evans
  • New Bunuel, la transgression des reves -A new documentary by Pierre-Henri Gibert
  • Photo Gallery

The Milky Way

  • New Jean-Claude Carriere interview
  • New Critical Analysis by professor Peter W. Evans
  • Bunuel, athiest thanks to God doc (32 minutes)
  • Trailer

Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

  • New Jean-Claude Carriere interview
  • A Walk Amongst the Shadows doc (28 minutes)
  • Critical analysis by professor Peter W.Evans
  • Trailer


  • New Interview with Franco Nero
  • Rituals documentary doc (20 minutes)
  • Trailer

For anyone wanting to delve in to the surreal work of this iconic it director, this box set is a great place to start.

Studio Canal Vintage World Cinema released this Blu-ray boxset Bunuel – The Essential Collection on 23rd October 2017

Bunuel - The Essential Collection
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