Accidental Heroes of the 20th Century: 12 - Luis Bunuel, Film Director

IT ISN'T every internationally renowned film director who has the formula for the perfect dry Martini. Luis Bunuel not only knew the secret, but spent a good portion of his gloriously discursive autobiography My Last Breath, published shortly before his death in 1983, imparting it.

A whole chapter of the book - the kind of space most directors in their memoirs would devote to Oscar nominations or camera set-ups - deals with drinking and smoking, activities in defence of which Bunuel is as passionate as he is in his attacks on the Church and bourgeois conventions in his films.

"A dry Martini," writes Bunuel, "is composed of gin and a few drops of Noilly Prat. Connoisseurs who like their Martinis very dry suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin."

Even on this topic, and at the age of 82, Bunuel could not resist a possibly blasphemous thought: "Dry Martinis should resemble the Immaculate Conception," he writes. "As St Thomas Aquinas once noted, the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin's hymen `like a ray of sunlight through a window - leaving it unbroken'."

Bunuel's passion for tobacco, meanwhile, equals his love of alcohol. "It's a joy for all the senses. What lovelier sight is there than that double row of white cigarettes, lined up like soldiers on parade, wrapped in silver paper? I love to touch the pack in my pocket, open it, savour the feel of the cigarette between my fingers, the paper on my lips, the taste of tobacco on my tongue. I love to watch the flame spurt up, love to watch it come closer and closer, filling me with its warmth."

This is a film director's description of smoking. The almost fetishistic relish of detail recalls, for some reason, the lingering shot of Catherine Deneuve's patent shoes as she walks up the stairs to one of her afternoon assignations in Belle de Jour, or Bunuel's exceptional tracking shot, head and shoulders only, following Deneuve down the street in the same film.

But Bunuel was no guilty voyeur, like that other great Catholic film director, Alfred Hitchcock. He was a cheerful participant in life. Through all the years of exile from his beloved Spain, he never despaired. There was always a bar, and friends with whom to engage in a passionate exchange of views. "I can't count the number of delectable hours I've spent in bars," he writes.

A more famous Bunuel quote - "I remain an atheist, thank God" - explains why he and Franco never hit it off, and why the director spent several years dubbing American movies, before moving to Mexico, where he added a personal touch to mundane commercial projects.

Bunuel's mission to shock and enrage never deserted him. Whether in the famous image of a razor blade slicing through an eyeball in Un Chien Andalou, his 1927 collaboration with Salvador Dali, or in his 1960 film, Viridiana, which Franco's government backed at the Cannes Film Festival, clearly unaware of the scenes of foot fetishism and the parody of da Vinci's Last Supper, involving beggars and drunkards, Bunuel just couldn't resist it. When the Spanish government finally saw the movie, he was exiled from his birthplace for the rest of his life.

In the Seventies, Bunuel had a glorious late flowering, but the films he made in France, such as The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), were not the films of a mellow old man. His sense of the ridiculous and his talent for subversion were as vivid as ever.

As a young man, his iconoclasm could have been dismissed as the equivalent of breaking wind in church. But to retain that kind of rage into old age - that's heroic.

Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week