Nonsensical, erotic, scandalous, revolutionary: Luis Buñuel's surrealist masterpiece L'Âge D'Or is not for those of a nervous disposition. After premiering in Paris in November 1930, the film caused a riot as outraged audiences threw bottles of ink at the screen, fired guns into the air, released stink bombs, and trashed the foyer. Seventy-odd years on, this provocative tale of two lovers (Gaston Modot and Lya Lys) and their thwarted attempts to consummate their passion has lost none of its power to upset the Establishment.
Following his work with implacable surrealist agitator Salvador Dalí on their short experimental film Un Chien Andalou (re-released by the BFI on a double bill with L'Âge D'Or), Buñuel decided to take the painter's ideas even further in this pornographic fantasy about a man and a woman whose love-making is constantly interrupted by the forces of righteousness. Setting his sights on the Church, the State, and the family, Buñuel crafted a visual poem/clammy nightmare of deranged imagery.
"IRRELIGIOUS AND SCANDALOUS"
Events are designed to cause the maximum amount of confusion and indignation: a milk cow standing in a woman's bed; a blind man being beaten up on the street; advertising boards coming to life; a group of bishops disintegrating into skeletons; and an orgy in which Jesus Christ is a willing participant.
Irreligious and scandalous, it's a collection of extreme imagery that's designed not simply to shock for shock's sake (although that's undeniably part of its attraction), but also to argue the case for the surrealist belief in giving our unconscious, irrational desires free reign.
As heroine Lya Lys sucks at the toes of a Greek statue in a moment of frustrated desperation, it's clear that sex in this world is both terrifying and hilarious. Distrusting any attempt to censor or repress our darkest desires, Buñuel creates a film in which anything goes and everything is permitted. It's an exhilarating, irrational masterpiece of censor-baiting chutzpah.
In French with English subtitles.