I knew nothing of Luis Bunuel's films (I have still never seen one!) and I have absolutely no interest in surrealism (other than in its relationship within some of the works of Federico Garcia Lorca); I have never been to Spain and I do not speak Spanish. So how and why, one might wonder, would I come to an autobiography of this Spanish man from Aragon for whom surrealism had been a big factor in his life? Actually, it was because I was so cross with him in his treatment of Lorca back in the mid to late twenties that I wanted him to account for himself! (Crazy? Perhaps; but true none the less!)
By the end of his autobiography I had fallen in love with him!
Bunuel writes with such fluency (and does so in a 'no-nonsense' kind of way) that from the very first page he has drawn you to him. Like a child mesmerised by its Grandfather whilst he tells of a bygone era and actually one that with hindsight was one of the most difficult in which to live. He takes us on a fascinating journey into the past whilst recounting his own with amazing candidness; some of which he is proud of and some of which he is not; one or two memories of which he is still ashamed to recall. His writing has such grace that as with any good novel, you soon forget that you have a book in your hands; everything around you evaporates and suddenly he is there, in front of you, speaking to you and only to you, and the scene is whichever scene he has taken you to. Furthermore, he speaks with such frankness that at times I was quite taken aback and had to ask him to 'repeat' his words!
Bunuel walks us through his earliest memories of childhood, his relationship with his family whom he clearly loved and for whom he held great affection and the realisation that with his father's death (1923) during his student days, he had suddenly become the man of the house. He talks about his Catholicism and the effect it had upon the manner in which he viewed life including his (along with the vast majority of his counterparts) attitudes to sex, the negative aspects for which he placed squarely upon the shoulders of the faith.
Bunuel's account of his student days at the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid where he had studied the sciences, (taking as his sister Conchita describes, 'a fancy to biology' - for many years he was a research assistant to Ignacio Bolivar) is always warm, invariably witty and sometimes just downright eyebrow raising for some of the antics he was involved in! Of course, it was here too that he was to meet 'soon to become notable names' such as Lorca and Dali of whom he provides detailed accounts (and not always kind it has to be said). Growing tired and restless of the 'Resi' and with a growing fascination with the ideals of Breton and the surrealists, Bunuel finally leaves the 'Resi' and Madrid in 1925 to set out for Paris which was to begin his long estrangement from his close friend Lorca and his collaboration with Dali as he took his first steps into the world of cinema.
If you have even read this far, hopefully by now I have 'whetted your appetite' and you are already ordering your copy of this remarkable autobiography; by far the best I have ever read and the ONLY one that will remain on my own book-shelves. Oddly enough (and I have no idea why) I am not a big fan of autobiographies as I find many of them to be rather conceited but for some obscure reason my family and friends (out of desperation for ideas I think) have provided me with many for birthdays and Christmas and of course I have felt obliged to read them all (an exceedingly tiresome and tedious task most of the time, I assure you . . . I hope they don't read this!). 'My Last Breath' (I believe that 'My Last Sigh' is the same autobiography) is the only autobiography I have bought for myself and for me at least, it is the only one that has been worth a light.
Did Bunuel redeem himself with me in relation to Lorca? Yes, he did; he is the man who in fact has delivered the most beautiful summation of Lorca and was amongst those who pleaded with him not to return to Granada in that fateful summer of 1936. Lorca's cruel and violent death hurt him.
If you are interested in Luis Bunuel, surrealism, the history of cinema, or the autobiographical genre in general, I would strongly urge you to read this one. It will be money well spent I promise. I am delighted to see it now available for kindle (it wasn't when I bought mine) and I am most assuredly going to purchase it in this format.
As with most autobiographies, this one too contains personal photographs within the centre pages.