His father was Leonardo Buñuel, the cultivated scion of an established Aragonese family, and his mother was María Portolés, many years younger than her husband, with wealth and family connections of her own.
Buñuel received a strict Jesuit education at the private Colegio del Salvador in Zaragoza. After being kicked and insulted by the study hall proctor before a final exam, Buñuel refused to return to the school. He finished the last two years of his high school education at the local public school.
In his youth, Buñuel was deeply religious, serving at Mass and taking Communion every day, until, at age 16, he grew disgusted with what he perceived as the illogicality of the Church, along with its power and wealth.
In 1917, he went to university at the University of Madrid, first studying agronomy then industrial engineering and finally switching to philosophy.
He was a pioneer of cinematic surrealism and he launched ferocious attacks on the church, fascism and conventional bourgeois morality, building images with a dreamlike logic, delicious irony and swathes of black humor. A quarter of a century since his passing he remains cinema’s greatest iconoclast.
In 1925 he studied cinema at the Académie du Cinéma in Paris and following a brief apprenticeship as an assistant director, he collaborated with Dalí on his firs film, Un Chien andalou (Andalusian Dog) in 1928.
In 1932 Buñuel left Paris for Spain and made Land Without Bread, a powerful and horrifying documentary about peasant poverty in northern Spain. It was banned in his homeland and was the last film Buñuel made for 13 years.
He worked as chief editor and chief of the writer department of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1939-1943).
He settled in Mexico in 1946 and resumed his directorial career.
He became a Mexican citizen in 1948.
In 1961 Buñuel made Viridiana in Spain, his first film in his homeland for 29 years. The movie, which was sponsored by the Spanish government, was another scathing satire on the church and fascism. Government officials did not see the film until its Cannes opening in 1961, where it won the Palme d’Or. Like much of Buñuel’s Spanish output it was immediately banned.
Shortly before his death, he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Isabella by the Spanish government – perhaps in a last-gasp gesture of reconciliation.
His films were shot in a few weeks on low budgets and rarely strayed from the script, shooting in continuity to minimize the editing time.
He was fluent in Spanish and French but never learned to speak English.
Praised by Alfred Hitchcock
as the best director ever.
Although he was famously a lifelong atheist, he reportedly experienced a religious conversion at the end of his life.
Un Chien andalou (1929)
L’Âge d’or (1930
Los Olvidados (1950)
Belle de jour (1966)
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972).
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