Top positive review
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one of the few mainstream commercial films made by Bunuel
on 16 May 2011
Bunuel is known as a surrealist, whose works mixes the interior - images and attitudes buried in the subconscious - with circumstances in the real world. It is always and interesting collision, but usually not destined for big box office revenues. This film, his only one in English, is in my view directed at a wider audience. It is very faithful to the book, yet emphasizes some of his traditional themes in surprising ways.
We all know the outlines of the story: a marooned man masters his environment, finds Friday and teaches him the ways of the West while listening to a decidedly non-Western point of view, and finally escapes with Friday. Because of the nearly two decades Crusoe spent alone, it is a very introspective tale of loneliness, a dialogue with God, and endeavor.
What makes this such an exceptional viewing experience are the angles that Bunuel highlights. First, there is a sexual tension between Crusoe and Friday, which I have never seen in any of the other versions. In particular, there is a scene where Friday finds a dress in a trunk and puts it on, appearing beautifully androgynous to the point that Crusoe is disturbed and gruffly orders him to put something else on. Second, Bunuel does not hide the fact that Crusoe was a slave trader and uses Friday as his servant while calling him his friend. This shows Bunuel's mastery of the medium, introducing something that he doesn't tie off in a pat manner but leaves it to create conflict in the mind of the viewer, much as the best essayists do. Third, Friday asks Crusoe many questions about God - essentially those advanced by the Marquis de Sade! - that he can't answer, for example, if God is so powerful, why doesn't God kill the devil; Crusoe answers that God wants man to have a choice, to which Friday responds: then why does God feel wrath when man chooses the wrong way? Crusoe is dumbstruck and merely says to the parrot that Friday doesn't understand. It is beautifully succinct and typical of the fine script.
Unfortunately, the DVD print left much to be desired. It is obviously taken from an inferior film version. Moreover, there are no subtitles, which would help given that the sound track is also unclear.
Recommended warmly. If commercial, Bunuel still weaves his magic in the conflict he creates in the mind of the viewer. I grew up watching this version and hugely enjoyed watching it with my son.