Sunday, July 06, 2003

After seeing Luis Buñuel's The Milky Way I feel I should second its inclusion on Ernesto's list of favorite road movies. Like Pasolini's Hawks and Sparrows, The Milky Way follows the misadventures and missed adventures of two holy fools (one old, one young) as they ramble down the open road, in this case the Way of St. James, a medieval traveler's route that guided pilgrims from all over northern Europe to Spain. The film rehearses two millenia worth of heresies, blasphemies, and sacrileges as the wanderers encounter such ex-communicados as the Marquis de Sade (played by Michel Piccoli), Archbishop Caranza de Toledo, and the devil himself. Those not raised Catholic may find it tiresome. Having gobbled the host a few times in my youth, I was ecstatic. Dueling cardinals say things like, "You've committed a semi-Pelagian error," Jesuits complain about the sins of the Jansenists, Jesus Christ starts to shave before Mary tells him he looks better with a beard. It was filmed in 1968 -- during one sequence, the young vagabond watches schoolgirls recite ecclesiastical law at the Institution Lamartine and daydreams that a group of 68ers is executing the pope; when his dream-shots are fired at the pontiff they startle members of the Lamartine audience: "Is there a shooting range around here?" someone asks. "No, I was just imagining the pope being executed." "Heh, you'll never live to see that day!" While not as funny as his later stabs at the bourgeoisie, it certainly split the opinions of his contemporaries. According to Buñuel (in his book My Last Sigh), Carlos Fuentes saw it as an anti-religious war movie. Julio Cortázar went so far as to suggest that the Vatican must have put up the money for it. Of Buñuel's later films it is perhaps both the most specific and sweeping in its satire: "Besides the situation itself and the authentic doctrinal dispute it evokes," he writes, "the film is above all a journey through fanaticism, where each person obstinately clings to his own particle of truth, ready if need be to kill or die for it. The road traveled by the two pilgrims can represent, finally, any political or even aesthetic ideology."

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