THE MOVIE SHELF: comparing films to their literary counterparts

jean renoir, 1946.

luis buñuel, 1964.

"Is all that happens to me really my fault?"

Welcome to The Movie Shelf, an ongoing series that compares the films on our dvd shelves to the novels on our bookcases.

We at the 'Smoke have always been fascinated by screenplay adaptation: what a script writer takes from the source material, what gets discarded, how the two works differ from each other and what the existence of the movie itself says about the book (and vice versa.) It's "book versus movie" time, folks.



octave mirbeau, 1900.

~ by christopher funderburg ~

"Have you ever seen anything as stupid as a chestnut tree?"

Octave Mirbeau's 1900 novel Le Journal d'une femme de chambre holds the notable position of having been adapted into films by two lumbering titans of le cinema, Jean Renoir and Luis Buñuel. Few novels have been tackled by multiple filmmakers of the stature of Renoir and Buñuel, certainly two of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived; I don't believe there are any novels as obscure as Mirbeau's imagined diary of a desultory housemaid that can boast that kind of an adaptational one-two punch. It's a unique situation and one that I think can tell us quite a bit not just about Renoir and Buñuel as filmmakers but the nature of adaptation itself. Which is what we're all here for. To discuss Renoir, Buñuel and the nature of adaptation itself. This is the first Movie Shelf to look at multiple films based on the same book and, honestly, there are probably few trios that would be worth the effort. I mean, I could talk myself into The Hunter, Point Blank and Payback, but let's be real: that wouldn't exactly be discussing the Rules of the Game auteur, Mexico and Spain's greatest filmmaker and a genre-bending critically-adored curio.

Well, let me walk that back a touch: describing Mirbeau's book as "genre-bending" might be overstating it. The critical consensus seems to be that Mirbeau's breakthrough works Diary and The Torture Garden are aesthetically radical works that pushed the novel's boundaries, but with Diary I just can't agree with that consensus about its stylistic elements. The Torture Garden, yes; but Diary is more or less a (non-torture) garden variety picaresque, one slanted in the satirical tradition of The Luck of Barry Lyndon. As far as its place in the pantheon of the style, it can't hold a candle to the classics like Jacques le Fatalist, Gargantua and Pantagruel and the ne plus ultra Don Quixote. I think it's fair to put it on that next level down with stuff like Lyndon, The Adventures of Felix Krull: Confidence Man and Gil Blas.

The critical tendency groups it in with the Modernist works that would follow in the coming decades, but truthfully it has more in common with the tradition of books I've just listed than with the furious aesthetic adventures of Modernist classics like The Sleepwalkers, The Man Without Qualities and Ulysses. Somewhat logically, it finds itself somewhere between the "psychological novel" of Madame Bovary (from 1856) and the Modernist works that blew up the form around the time of the first World War. It's bold but not that bold - because of its tendency towards psychological realism, it lacks the rough and tumble freedom of the early picaresque but at the same time it's not quite as accomplished as Proust or Mann - it certainly doesn't exceed the innovation and outrageousness of Tristram Shandy from a century and a half earlier.

If those two preceding paragraphs are so much gibberish to you, I can back up and reveal some of my own ignorance: I recently found out the word "picaresque" doesn't refer to the general style of the form. I had assumed the word was rooted in the episodic nature of the books as well as their tendency to follow characters who travel, often across landscapes and certainly through a variety of social strata. It turns out a "picar" is simply a "scoundrel" and that these novels are all theoretically about scoundrels, cads and jerks. I get it, even if Quioxte and Sancho Panza, Jacques and his master or Augie March don't quite fit the bill. Certainly, there's a gleeful amorality, or maybe invigorating moral freedom, that all of these books share apart from their episodic structure, diversity of social situations and wanderlust. But if we're strictly talking cads, the depraved and debauched, then Mirbeau's chambermaid Célestine more than fits the bill.

The book is a collection of tales concerning the titular heroine Célestine R., a coquettish servant whose loose morals, impulsivity and yearning for wealth and power have caused her to work through fourteen households in two years. Not quite as impressively over-the-top as the Fat Boys stealing and eating sixteen cakes three times a week in Disorderlies, but I think we can agree very comparable. The work positions itself as her diary and picks up with her first day working for a provincial couple named the Lanlaires only to ultimately spend more time flashing back to her time in other households, digressing into stories of her youth and relating second-hand tales recounted to her by her friends and employers. To the extent that there's an over-arching plot, it concerns her courtship by and eventual marriage to a child rapist who wants to buy a cafe in Cherbourg and have her work there as a prostitute. This gentleman is the Lanlaire's valet Joseph and the book ends with them quitting their life as domestics and heading off to that military hub together.

Mirbeau portrays Célestine with a great deal of sympathy, but doesn't shy away from her tendency towards casual sex, theft, capriciousness and social-climbing. Her eventual coupling with Joseph seems to be the crux of Mirbeau's ideas: "A fine crime takes ahold of me just as a fine man does." She's a creature of sex and circumstance, held under the sway of powers around her that she can only partially comprehend. But that's not to say that Mirbeau doesn't use his novel to lay into class inequality and the repulsiveness of the privileged and powerful - it's every bit the kind of satirical takedown of cruel aristocrats and the undeserving winners in life that you might expect it to be. Its reputation is that of a "naughty" look at the grotesquely rich and undeservingly privileged and there's no denying that description applies, though it is a bit reductive. Mirbeau doesn't shy away from Célestine's ugly side, even if he ultimately displays more sympathy for her than he does for the moneyed villains that shit continuously and remorselessly on the little people beneath them.

The book's moral perspective can be summed up in the following sequence:

This evening, at dinner, when dessert was being served, Madame said to me, very severely:
"If you like prunes, you only have to ask me for them; I will see if I can give you any; but I forbid you to take them."
I answered:
"I am not a thief, Madame, and I do not like prunes."
Madame insisted:
"I tell you that you have taken some prunes."
I replied:
"If Madame thinks me a thief, Madame only has to pay me and let me go."
Madame snatched the plate of prunes from my hand.
"Monsieur ate five this morning; there were thirty-two; now there are but twenty-five; then you have taken two. Don't let that happen again."
It was true. I had eaten two of them. She had counted them!
Did you ever in your life?

I should mention that another reason the book can't quite achieve greatness is that Mirbeau paints himself into a corner with the "diary" concept and there are a number of off-model sections that utterly fumble Célestine's voice as a character and plainly read as Mirbeau's own words. In fact, when I first sat down to read the damned thing, I had an immediate feeling of "uh-oh" from his introduction, which reminded me of Paul Cooney's description of Ian Flemming's moronic intro to The Spy Who Loved Me - I actually thought of Célestine as "Little Miss 'Not Unskilled in the Art of Love'" for the rest of novel. The idea is that both authors came into possession of manuscripts that were "no shit, really believe me guys" written by sexed-up young ladies, who were definitely real people, and those manuscripts were then re-written and cleaned up by them, the noble men of letters.

But in the case of Le journal, this opening section is clearly intended as a plea from Mirbeau to be given a pass on the book's undeniable inconsistency of tone and authorial voice, not to mention its digressions into places and subjects a woman like Célestine wouldn't know anything about. It all reads like "yeah, yeah, some of this clearly wasn't written by a chambermaid, what're you gonna do?" It's a cop-out and more than a little lame. Some of the off-model sections include an extended satire about a social-climbing (but legitimately talented) artist's tedious high society dinner party as well as a story about a gardener and his wife cruelly disallowed to have children by their employer (a narrative digression which weirdly shifts into third person.) These sections include lines like "Man is nothing but surprise, contradiction, incoherence and folly" that are credited to characters other than Célestine, but appear so frequently that it seems a bit like that's just how this poor, orphaned, abused sexpot maid thinks and talks.

And while "the philosophically cagey peon" is a strong tradition of the picaresque (Jacques the fatalist, the good soldier Švejk, and Panurge) that's not how Mirbeau generally portrays Célestine - she's not inclinded to ruminating on the condition of man or interested in manipulating humanity's follies to her advantage; she's driven by "of the moment, in the moment" desires with a kind of thoughtless naiveté that doesn't square with Mirbeau's tendency to insert profound proclaimations into her mouth. Again, this is how the novel finds itself hemming between something like Rabelais and something like Flaubert: Mirbeau creates a character on a foundation of psychological realism but frequently lapses into writing her like she's Panurge, a deeply literary creation.

Tonal inconsistency aside, it's easy to see what attracted both Buñuel and Renoir to this book. They're two filmmakers who don't have a huge amount in common; certainly I don't think anyone would make a natural connection between their films without a source to bridge them, so it might be a little surprising that the novel feels like a good fit in both directions.1 I can't see Renoir having taken on almost any of the other source novels from which Buñuel worked liked Galdos's Tristana and Nazarin or even Piere Louys's La Femme et le Pantin (which became That Obscure Object of Desire). The inverse might be possible with Buñuel taking on Zola or Gorky, but I guess this pointless speculation isn't particularly productive. Forgetting about adaptations, these just don't have much in common - there never would have been a Jean Renoir's The Milky Way, even while Buñuel's Rules of the Game exists and is called The Exterminating Angel.

Setting aside that Mirbeau had been a passionate and crucial critical advocate on behalf of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, it's not hard to imagine what attracted the painter's son Jean to the book: the humane satire of French social conventions and the foibles of the moneyed recall Rules of the Game, Renoir's fondness for adapting works by masters of French literature like A Day in the Country and La Bête humaine made adding Mirbeau's book to his collection a not-unlikely move, the book's excoriation of Rightwing nastiness deeply compatible with Renoir's Leftist humanism. For Buñuel's part, should I mention that one of the first episodes concerns a perverted old man using Célestine to indulge in his foot fetish? Buñuel shares Mirbeau's affection and critical attitude towards the debauched - the two artists have a prominent spiritual resemblance when it comes to the collision of power, class, desire and fantasy.

The sociopolitical commentary is much more pointed than in either the Buñuel or Renoir films. It's filled with lines like the one talking about the relative lack of difference between the rich and poor, religious and irreligious: "All hypocrites, all cowards, all disgusting, each in his own way." Or endearingly cynical throwaway lines disparaging, say, the wonder and majesty of nature: "'Have you ever seen anything as stupid as a chestnut tree?" For sure, he puts the hammer down on nationalism: "And there is nothing like patriotism to get people drunk." It's a book that takes shots at a lot of things, a book that exists in large part as a vehicle for taking shots at a lot of things.

In cataloging France's intersecting traditions at the time of Anti-Semitism, hypocritical Catholicism and blood-thirsty patriotism, Mirbeau doesn't pull any punches when it comes to letting you know just how much horseshit he sees in them. He had been deeply affected by the contemporaneous Dreyfus affair, in which a Jewish artillery officer was unjustly accused of treason and got caught squarely in the cross-hairs of that traditional trio. Mirbeau had always been somewhat of an iconoclastic public intellectual, but the Dreyfuss affair apparently turned him full cynic. For that reason, the sociopolitical critique of his book plays much more directly and viciously than anything you'd ever find in a film by a warm humanist like Renoir or an elusive, deadpan artiste like Buñuel.

And speaking of hammering the shit out of targets, Mirbeau mentions numerous real-life figures over the course of the book and offers up stinging critiques either of them or on their behalf including Dreyfus, Emile Zola, Drumont and Voltaire - but he really saves his harshest harshness for a long-forgotten author named Paul Bourget. An at-first subtle and then full-on evisceration of Bourget runs throughout the novel, Mirbeau's disdain for Bourget being perhaps the novel's only constant presence apart from Célestine herself. It's one of those quirks that makes the novel age poorly and prevents it from attaining absolute greatness as Bourget is so 100% irrelevant now that all of the ire wasted on him feels silly since time itself has delivered a pretty thorough coup de grace to the man's reputation.

The only reason I'm dwelling on the Bourget-bashing is that it apparently finds its origin in the fact that Bourget wrote a pair of novels based on Mirbeau's life! I couldn't find any English translations of those books to compare them to the real stories, but Mirbeau suffered through a tragic love affair with a woman named Judith Vimmer and Bourget seems to have mined the romantic tragedy of a well-regarded public figure for a semi-fictionalized tale of passion turned sour. Ultimately, it's hard to begrudge Mirbeau his revenge, revenge which is just brutal - he attacks from every angle: smart characters offering condescending encouragement to Bourget, simplistic idiots offering him shallow praise, direct critique of his logical ineptitude and moral hypocrisy. But at the end of the day it all feels a little bit like Milhouse van Houten's analysis of Mad Magazine's satire "They're really giving it to that Spiro Agnew guy again! He must work there or something..."

I'm poking fun at the book a bit, but let me make clear that the pieces of it that work, really work - and Mirbeau has a huge talent for grotesquery. He includes countless unforgettable throwaway bits like Joseph's theories on how torturing ducks by jamming a needle in their brain makes them taste more delectable for dinner - that way they're seasoned with fear and anguish. Delicious! There's also a deeply shocking scene where the Lanlaire's neighbor Captain Mauger brags about how he will eat anything in the world, from flowers to insects to hippos, so Célestine challenges him to eat his beloved pet weasel, a shy creature that totally trusts and loves the Captain. She jokingly provokes him on the subject until he snaps the pitiful animal's neck and gobbles it down for dinner. Another layer that makes the scene so queasy is Célestine's self-conscious indifference to provoking the Captain to do something horrible - she's well aware she's engaging in a game that both she and the Captain will regret and later be nauseated by, but she does so anyway with an emotional distance that she is aware is fleeting. It inexplicably doesn't bother her now, but she knows it will. She does it anyway.

And the best sequence in the book climaxes in a scene where Célestine laps up the bloody vomit of a beautiful young consumptive man whom she's been hired to care for and has fallen in love with. Filled with a passion to prove her love transcends her repulsion of his disease and even her fear of death, they make out until he pukes and then she swallows the bloody puke, licking it off of his face. The kicker to this sequence is a little epilogue immediately after the young M. Georges succumbs to his disease where she heads back to Paris, runs into an old friend and pops into a hotel for a quick bang. Mirbeau creates this swooningly romantic scenario where Célestine feels a transcendental passion for a doomed lover and then offers a truly disgusting proof of that love before undermining those swooning emotions with a scene where Célestine seems to almost instantly forget her Great Love in favor of some enthusiastic casual sex with another handsome dude. Was she affected in any meaningful way by her transcendental love? Or was it all just crazed bloody puke eating that doesn't mean anything at the end of the day?

Putting aside the off-model section where Mirbeau loses her voice altogether, one of Célestine's virtues as a character is that she's tough to pin down - contradictory, but in a believable way. She undoubtedly longs for wealth and power and rues the crummy hand she's been dealt in life, forced to live under the boot heel of piggish dilletantes, but at the same time she's not for sale. She turns down an offer to live with a rich old man under a "wink, wink" type agreement, she despises being used like a slut by the pompous son of an ecclesiastical conman, she finds true love with the consumptive and she ignores the matronly whore-mongers on the street who assure her she could make far more money with them than as a chambermaid. From another vantage, her "not for sale" qualities ring hollow as she submits to all manner of humiliation and insult as a servant, when she gives up her dignity and happiness just to survive - or when contrasted with her enthusiastic "debauched" and "perverted" (her words) liaisons with a parade of random men. Célestine's a great character - there's a lot there to exhume - so let's look at what Renoir and Buñuel decided to do with her. (Sad) Spoiler alert: she eats bloody vomit in neither movie.

jean renoir, 1946.

"They're conservatives and I'm a liberal!"

Screenplay by Burgess Meredith! Produced by Burgess Meredith! You know it's going to be good because in his memoir So Far So Good, he misspells the man's name as "Mirabeau" and misidentifies him as "the playwright" who wrote the source work. Seriously, we need to get this out of the way: Rocky's trainer, the Penguin himself, plays a huge hand in this begotched adaptation - he even takes on the role of Captain Mauger. Sure, he eats a few flowers, but sadly when he kills his beloved pet (for some reason now a squirrel) it's purely a poorly filmed, blocked and acted accident, not an intentional act of rodent homicide. The heart of the weasel-killing scene is lost. Burgess and his wife Paulette Godard, who plays Célestine, met Renoir while working on some U.S. propaganda films during WWII and this woeful adaptation somehow resulted from that meeting.

While I wrote that I could understand what attracted Renoir to the book, I can also admit that there's a lot in there that I can't imagine was palatable to him. His films have always been so decent and modest. Even La Chienne, a story about a ruinous prostitute, is an almost totally sexless affair. His romances are chaste even when they're adulterous - whatever the opposite of an erotic filmmaker is, Renoir is that. He's also not capable of cruelty and he's generous and forgiving by nature: he's moral, if not a moralist per se. So the chance of Célestine as a character surviving intact were slim and, indeed mon freres, Mirbeau's Célestine does not make an appearance in Renoir's film.

The opening scene immediately establishes Célestine as a good and noble woman: Joseph shows up at the train station to pick up Célestine and a scullery maid, gives the scullery maid a once over and says "scram." The woman protests that she was promised a job and has no money to take the train back to Paris. Célestine gives him the ol' "now, you listen, bub, you give this woman the job she was promised or I'm walking, too!" And it works. Because she's got moxy, this one.

The scene is so, so shitty.

I'm not sure how quickly you can reasonably decisively determine a movie stinks, but this scene is an argument in favor of "instantly." Needless to say, Mirbeau's Célestine wasn't up for such selfless interventions and would be more likely think horrible thoughts about the ugly people of the world than ro stand up for them. By contrast, Renoir's Célestine is savvy, know-it-all-ish - in an early scene, she demands a second bed for the scullery maid after she's informed the maid will be sleeping on the floor of their shared quarters. And again her demand is met without resistance. The life of chambermaid seems pretty sweet: you bark orders at your masters and their valet and get everything you want.

The Meredith/Renoir script does keep a fair amount of dialog from the book, but in such a way that warps the meaning. For example, when Mirbeau's Célestine says "Life is life," it's a weird existential plaintive. Renoir's version sees it as an upbeat inspirational message. Other times, the lines simply don't ring true when they're imported directly from the book. In the film, "They've always hurt me so now I'm going to use them! No more love for Célestine!" feels as phony as a three dollar bill with Rondo Hatton's picture on it - the film's Célestine has too much can-do spirit and optimism for those lines to have any weight. You never get any sense that she's being crushed by her menial position in life nor her desires being exploited by the powerful people around her; and why should you get that sense? She's spending all her time demanding new beds and telling people off.

More egregiously, she's deeply insulted by Joseph's cafe idea. There's zero chance of her coming along with him and the idea that she might fall for an Anti-Semitic goon like Joseph just isn't in the same universe as Renoir's take on the character. Joseph (played by Eastern European matinee idol Francis Lederer) is filmed like he's Bela Lugosi or something; he's always in looming dark shadows, his features distorted by harsh lighting, his thick accent played for maximum creepiness. Now Joseph's the monster in a creature feature - a mob of incensed townspeople even tear him to shreds at the end, although without the ironic sense of tragedy afforded Frankenstein's monster. Célestine is noble, virtuous, the anti-Joseph, his insistence "Our souls are alike" laughably absurd. She's not the character from the book.

The film is not the book - it's one of those classic mishandled adaptations where Hollywood phonies come in, steal a few lines and characters and situations and leave out the soul of the source material. Which is not to say Renoir is a Hollywood phony, but this thing has all the hallmarks of a piece taken on by hacks who didn't really care about the novel who then fart out a pointless script that was then endlessly rewritten to fit the Hays code. It also might be unfair to totally let Renoir escape any blame - Renoir wrote the initial draft of the screenplay working from Andre de Lorde's play and it's hard to believe he couldn't have made something that works within all of the commercial and moral restrictions placed on the film that nevertheless has something of the spirit of the novel.

The final script invents a lot and twists the plot around, but also composites a few characters into a single entity. The beautiful consumptive (perversely) gets combined with the asshole son of the ecclesiastical conman2 and transformed into the the Lanlaire's son (a character that does not exist in the novel). Renoir's biggest changes concern Joseph - almost all of the plot that touches him gets altered. First off, the subplot involving a little girl who gets raped and murdered (presumably by Joseph, but left ambiguous) gets dropped from the story entirely. Next, instead of successfully stealing the Lanlaire's extensive collection of expensive silver (and their antique cruet) and using his ill-gotten gains to buy the cafe in Cherbourg, Joseph's plans are sussed out by Madame Lanlaire and foiled. From there, he attempts to rob Captain Mauger and kills him in the process. That murder gets discovered and he gets chased into town and falls victim to mob justice (the best kind of justice!) during a quaint village Independence Day celebration, none of which happens in the novel.

Things like a quaint village celebration and a village wishing tree that according to local lore grants wishers true love if they sit under it with their honey-pie and wish hard enough are the kind of romanticism of provinciality that definitely would have made Mirbeau puke. No word on whether Renoir would be willing to eat that puke as proof of his love. Beyond narrative alterations, Renoir's film makes symbols even more pointedly symbolic and then spells it out, like this reference to the silver: "It represents to me as it does to you, my new position in life, my new security." Or how about ol' Captain Mauger explaining why he doesn't get along with the Lanlaires? "They're conservatives and I'm a liberal!" There's so much goofball horseshit in this movie - I think Renoir wants it to be a bit of manic farce, but it just never plays for even one second. I hope he wasn't aiming for something subtle like Rules of the Game. That would be sad - this is a movie where characters cackle and whimper and dance around all goofy-like and talk in exaggerated "funny" voices.

A few examples: the climactic greenhouse fistfight between Joseph and the newly-minted Lanlaire boy is so ridiculous. I honestly can't tell if it is supposed to be funny or just so poorly choreographed and executed as to be silly. I mean, Joseph is a murderer - this shouldn't be a joke, right? Anyhoo, I am sure you will be delighted to hear that not one, but two simpering halfwits have been added to the story: the ridiculous scullery maid and a monosyllabic, beloved village idiot. I won't spoil it for you if they fall in love or not - I'll let you experience that magic for yourself. And I'll say this about another key performance: it's a total toss-up if Burgess Meredith's take on the Captain or his portrayal of Oswald Cobblepot is more of a hyperactive cartoon.

One minor point before I move on from simply working through this endless list of everything the movie botches - it might seem like a small thing, but it's indicative of everything the movie gets wrong. In the novel, the jerk son of the ecclesiastical conman thinks he knows everything there is to know, he's bored with almost every topic and when he talks to Célestine he has a phrase that he repeats to indicate "yeah, I've thought about that, I'm done with that boring nonsense because I am a know-it-all." My version of the novel translates the phrase as "I have 'supped' on it," but it is clearly an idiom that defies easy translation. For some inexplicable reason, Meredith's script includes this totally extraneous verbal tic but awkwardly translates it as "I have 'had' it." The actors lean into the "had" to make it as awkward as possible - just a perfect example of the film getting the letter but not the spirit. That the script gives these lines to the consumptive/Lanlaire's son makes even less sense.

Most egregiously, Renoir's film does nothing to clarify for me what a cruet is. The film seems to indicate it is some kind of a big cabinet/credenza, but wikipedia insists it is a "small flat-bottomed vessel with a narrow neck." What differentiates it from a carafe, is that it has a "pheodelia." Way to drop the ball on that one, Jean.

Seriously, though, this film is most notable for what a baffling betrayal of Mirbeau's book it is. In Renoir's phonytown ending, Célestine marries the consumptive Lanlaire son who has miraculously overcome his illness. (It is implied that Proletariat Power! is what did it.) On their honeymoon train-ride, he encourages Célestine to write a final entry in her diary, which she does: "Forsaking all others, through sickness and health, for better or worse, till death do us part." Mirbeau's version of Célestine's final entry, as she joins child-rapin' Joseph to become a cafe-whore in Cherbourg: "Really I am powerless against Joseph's will. In spite of this fit of revolt, Joseph holds me, possesses me, like a demon. And I am happy in being his, I feel that I shall do whatever he wishes me to do, and that I shall go wherever he tells me to go...even to crime!" The endings are literal opposites.

Renoir's film is at its core a leftist fantasy of Mirbeau's truths: both artists despise the vicious Anti-Semitic rightwing Catholic hypocrites of France and both men seek to create an artwork to attack or at least undermine those forces, but Mirbeau offers an honest assessment of the source and influence of those rightwing impulses (including the inability of likable working class folks like Célestine to resist those forces) while Renoir offers an uplifting tale of overcoming that cultural malignancy. In Renoir's film, the stolen silver is given away to the crowd of townsfolk, the cowed Monsieur Lanlaire defies his shrewish wife and throws open the shutters in support of Democracy to let in the voice of the townspeople singing, the Captain claims his liberalism as the origin for his Lanlaire-antipathy,3 the reactionary Joseph becomes the monstrous villain bested collectively by the good-hearted townspeople, Célestine the servant becomes decent and hard-working (even heroic), the consumptive Lanlaire son declares after his bout with Joseph "The more I'm beaten, the stronger I become!"

This is all purely Leftist fantasyland stuff, an impression only enhanced by its fake-y sets and cartoonish performances. But coming right on the heels of France's liberation and Fascism getting its ass kicked up and down the block, the street, the ave, whatever, I can cut Renoir a break for embracing a corny, dubious Leftist optimism. Incidentally, I'm fascinated by the lengths critics will go to defend a work, any work, by a beloved filmmaker. I found countless reviews online that referred to this film as "dreamlike" or "possessing a dream logic" or some variation on how its stiltedness and artificiality is somehow intentional. There's no reason to defend a movie like this. Renoir made tons of good ones - it's alright to focus on those and toss this one out like so much trash. He's got not only Rules of the Game and Grand Illusion, but lesser known films that actually do deserve critical praise and to be highlighted and rediscovered like The Crime of Monsieur Lange and La Chienne. Renoir himself thought of Diary as a failure, so at least somebody around here gets it, man.

Beyond latter-day praise, it was named one of the 10 Best Films of 1946 by the National Board of Review, which is actually a pretty good list4 apart from including Diary and Jacques Becker's awful Goupi Mains Rogue, another punishingly unfunny manic comedy set in provincial France. I actually thought of Goupi when I was watching Diary - I wanted to mention the connection because they're so similar (and similarly bad films from legendary filmmakers). Anyhoo, if the National Board liked one, it makes sense that they liked the other. Another incidental: Becker was Renoir's former assistant director. And Renoir hated Goupi. Which I guess is also consistent: it makes sense if he thought his own film was bad that he disliked the other. Buñuel claimed to have never seen the Renoir film, which was the right call for a number of reasons. In fact, he made every right call when it came to Diary and created a film that I think surpasses even the novel.

luis buñuel, 1964.

"There are caresses… and there are caresses."

As I mentioned earlier, Buñuel and Mirbeau have a strong spiritual resemblance; however Buñuel is a total original, so while his film ends up embracing Mirbeau's novel to the same degree Renoir's disregards it, his 1964 adaptation ends up being its own screwy entity that's not beholden to the book. There are loads of more or less superficial changes: a shift in the setting from Belle Epoque France to the 1930's, a compression of discrete episodes from the novel into a single story and an altered (if not exactly new) ending - none betray the novel in the way Renoir's film made such betrayal a routine, but most if not all of these changes stamp the film with Buñuel's personality. For example, the switch from the Belle Epoque serves two purposes. First, Buñuel romanticized his own youth during the time period in which the novel was set and didn't want to profane that era with his film. Second, it allowed him to portray the France in which he lived and made his reputation as an artist alongside the Surrealists in the 1930's - the final sequence even takes some shots at Prefect of Police Jean Chiappe, the Surrealists' bête noire who had banned Buñuel's L'age d'or.

Maybe more interestingly, Buñuel solves the problem of adapting a sprawling, episodic story into a coherent feature-length film by turning it into Viridiana. This is interesting not so much from the stand-point of further imprinting his personality upon the film, but because Buñuel rarely repeated himself. Compared to, say, the concept of nearly every film by Chabrol (an overtly deranged person teams up with a seemingly normal person who turns out to be even crazier) or Hitchcock (an everyman/woman gets caught in a web of intrigue beyond their comprehension), Buñuel almost never repeated story ideas or plot structures. A lot of beloved auteurs (again, think of Chabrol or Hitchcock or Bresson or Antonioni) are beloved for their repetitiveness, for the insistent singularity of their vision. But compare even two of Buñuel's later films that might seem similar like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Phantom of Liberty, two extremely loosely plotted films that take strange turns and move in totally unpredictable directions, and you'll see how idiosyncratic each Buñuel film is: Charm's "dream within a dream" chinese box construction has a unity of characters that contrasts with the total narrative anarchy of Phantom's "exquisite corpse" style construction.5

The similarities between Viridiana and Diary are an artistic phenomenon that doesn't even occur in his more straightforward commercial Mexican phase, where he might be expected to have been more formulaic. Both films concern a passive young woman who arrives to take over the domestic duties of a provincial European estate. Roughly halfway through each story, an act of rape occurs (although "only in thought" in Viridiana if you believe Fernando Rey), the aging patriarch of the estate dies unexpectedly under grotesque circumstances and in response to these occurrences, the naif assumes an active role. The second half of each film concerns how the naif's noble intentions are sullied by debauchery and depravity.

After its completion in 1961, the Spanish-produced Viridiana had been banned by Franco at the behest of the Vatican and the only remaining prints had been buried on producer Gustavo Alatriste's farm to avoid their destruction. Despite the film winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, it's not hard to imagine Buñuel figured its problems with censorship would ensure that it would never see the light of day - it didn't in Spain until 1977 - so why not steal its basic structure and concept and apply it to Mirbeau's difficult novel? The resemblance between the films is all the more striking for Diary being an adaptation and Buñuel having to toss out a narrative approach (Mirbeau's episodic, digressive structure) in favor of the one he just employed a couple years earlier. He even intended to cast Viridiana's star Silvia Pinal in the title role, but his producer Serge Silberman over-ruled it.

I should mention at some point that the script was Buñuel's first time working with his frequent collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière, the uncontested greatest screenwriter of all time.6 Carrière also has a great cameo as a priest who gives the madame of the household some supremely uncomfortable bedroom advice. Anyway, Carrière undoubtedly influenced Buñuel's approach to adapting Mirbeau, but I feel comfortable positing that the young Carrière probably deferred to the legendary Buñuel on Chambermaid more than at any other point in the history of their collaboration - when he was brought on to Chambermaid by Silberman, Carrière had very little experience as a screenwriter, his most notable scripts being for a duo of award-winning Pierre Etaix shorts. Any thoughts I might have about Carrière's contributions to Chambermaid and Bunuel's ideas about Viridiana are purely speculative, so I can't say for certain how exactly Diary's unusual resemblance to Viridiana came about, only that it is a fact.

And here's as good a place as any to mention that Buñuel and Carrière change the name of the ruling family from "Lanlaire" to "Monteil." I've never understood how or why minor changes like that come about in the adaptation process, especially since Célestine remains Célestine, Joseph remains Joseph, Captain Mauger remains Captain Mauger and Mauger's servant/ladyfriend Rose remains Rose. Along those same lines, Paul Bourget isn't mentioned in the film and he more or less gets replaced by an author named Joris-Karl Huysmans, a fairly popular French novelist from the same era as Bourget who was also admired for his brand of artistic Catholic intellectualism. I haven't read Huysmans or Bourget so I can't say what the change brings to the table, or if it's even intended as a precise substitution. John Cribbs pointed out to me that Carrière and Buñuel wrote a script adapting Huysmans' La-Bas that was never realized, so they probably don't intend a full-on Bourget-for-Huysmans switch. I've sought clarification on some of these quirks of process, but most interviews with Carrière and Buñuel on the subject of the film speak in broad strokes and address only the most obvious aspects of the process of adaptation, like the compression of episodes into a single story and the altered ending.

This new ending serves as both the biggest change to the story and really the only instance where Buñuel seems to have a philosophical quarrel with Mirbeau. Buñuel drops any mention of an antique silver heist (and my beloved cruet) and instead of Célestine leaving with Joseph for the cafe in Cherbourg, Célestine uses her romance with Joseph to unsuccessfully frame him for little Claire's rape and murder. In a brief epilogue, we see Joseph at the cafe carrying out his plan with some other strumpet - Célestine instead marries Captain Mauger and starts barking orders at her underlings and acting like the kind of pampered middle-aged lady Mirbeau in his novel spends countless pages making us despise.

I only contrast Célestine's behavior in the final coda with the novel because Madame Monteil is irritating more than reprehensible (unlike Mirbeau's detestable M. Lanlaire) and Buñuel in general does not have it in for the rich and pampered nearly as much as Mirbeau does. In fact, Célestine's bratty behavior with Captain Mauger didn't really click for me as an ironic "Célestine happily ends up as a pampered jerk like her former betters" until I read the novel. I like how subtle and understated her transformation is in Buñuel's film, though - I've found one of the more satisfying complexities of his inexhaustible Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is that Buñuel isn't simply looking to skewer the wealthy and condemn the appeal of a life of martini lunches, fabulous country estates and chauffeur service. For Buñuel, it's not in and of itself objectionable to desire that kind of existence; it's pretty darn reasonable as a matter of fact - so while his film's coda makes a little hay about Célestine becoming exactly what Mirbeau hated, it also acknowledges that their housekeeper (imported from the Lanlaires) is probably better off working for her than being raped all day by her sweaty, slimy former master.

Some of our more critical thinking-oriented readers might have picked up on the fact that Renoir and Buñuel's films have almost nothing in common - furthermore, the small details they pick up from the sprawling novel tend to be entirely different. That makes it somewhat striking that they both seize upon Joseph's declaration to Célestine "Our souls are alike" - in Renoir's film, it's just another half-baked reproduction of something from the book that makes almost no sense in the new context of the film. Mirbeau means the line to be taken as truthful, an expression of insight into Célestine's morally flexible nature and its congruence with Joseph's own moral expediency. Buñuel uses it to generate tension as we consider the moral nature of Célestine - is she like Joseph?

As she seduces him, it's not precisely clear what motivates her and if her intentions are ultimately righteous in motivation. Even if she ultimately truly believes that he killed Claire and her frame-up is intended to serve justice, she still displays a moral flexibility to reach that righteous end: she whores herself out and commits a crime (the frame-up) while never proving Joseph's guilt in any meaningful sense or delivering justice for Claire (Joseph gets acquitted). Buñuel stacks the deck in her favor more than Mirbeau: in the book, Joseph's guilt is entirely speculative and left wholly unconfirmed while Buñuel shows Joseph seized by a sudden frenzy after his meeting with Claire in the forest. In both cases, Joseph doesn't come out with anything like a confession, he just repeats the line to Célestine, "You have some bad ideas about me." Célestine's seduction of Joseph has a slightly more ironic tinge in Buñuel's work than Mirbeau's: Mirbeau's Célestine does resemble Joseph in terms of moral bankruptcy, while Buñuel's Célestine shares the valet's immorality but employs it to righteous (I hesitate to say "noble") ends.

That brings me to one of the aspects I was most curious to explore when I picked up the novel: Célestine's feelings for Joseph. In an interview conducted by Jose De La Colina and Tomas Perez Turrent, Buñuel denied Célestine's attraction to Joseph may be authentic - he quashes the idea his activities as a murderer/rapist turn her on. I (and the interviewers) disagree - Jeanne Moreau as Célestine plays it ambiguously and their intimate scenes have an erotic charge. So, I wondered how Mirbeau handled it... and there's no ambiguity. Célestine's suspicions of Joseph's guilt are immediately followed by a lengthy description of his physical sexiness, his big biceps, wide chest, gruff masculinity and whatnot: "the terrible leverage of his loins, the athletic push of his shoulders all combined to make me dreamy."

A few other choice descriptions of her relationship to Joseph: "...prompted by fear as much as by attraction..." "My desire or my fear? I do not know which of these two sentiments it is that moves me." "And this opinion that I have of his moral personality, instead of driving me from him, far from placing a wall of horror between us, causes me, not to love him perhaps, but to take an enormous interest in him...I have always had a weakness for scoundrels. There is something about them that lashes the blood...something strong and bitter that attracts you sexually." Case closed, right? Ultimately, I think Buñuel is less of a cynic than Mirbeau and doesn't want to commit to the idea that his heroine swoons from a perverted lust for criminal brutes.

Mirbeau and Buñuel both contrast Joseph with M. Lanlaire/Monteil, whom the townsfolk suspect of murdering Claire because, in Mirbeau's words, he "outrages little girls who consent to be outraged" (a line not repeated in the film). Michael Piccoli's performance as Monteil feels pathetic, but raw and open - and, as he's in a position of power, dangerous despite his sad-sack nature. He can more or less rape his servants, impregnate them and send them away without repercussion, but he still carries himself like a loser, a man beaten down by life for whom nothing goes his way. He even loses to himself repeatedly at solitaire! His overt, irresistible haplessness (irresistible for his social station) makes for a striking contrast to George Geret's sleepy-lidded Joseph, a beast of a man who hides his monstrousness behind an intellectual opacity. He's tough to read, a closet Anti-Semite and neat-freak with ideas about opening a cafe and whoring his wife out to sailors seeming at odds with his racist, Patriotic moral certitude - these undercurrents swirl violently as he carries himself like the most pedestrian of citizens and dedicated of servants.

Both films make special note of Mirbeau's description of Joseph's fondness for giving the goose the pike, which I never really paid attention to in Buñuel's film until I read the novel. Buñuel's film is full of small details that are evocative on their own, but expanded upon in the novel, and Joseph's line "They're better when they suffer - and I like it that way!" definitely resonates more after you read the book. Since his cruelty occurs off-screen, you don't get as sickening a sense of the torture to which he gleefully subjects animals under the guise of doing what's best for his masters - he claims only to want to make them more delicious, but Mirbeau's stomach-churning talent for grotesquery underlines how bullshit this claim is. Célestine's sexual reaction to Joseph has a palpable charge in relationship to his cruelty, there's a definite S&M dynamic at play in the book that you can feel. Buñuel tamps down on all that (funny to write about a Buñuel artwork as being less perverted and debauched than something else) which I sorta don't know what to make of7 - other than, again, his relative lack of cynicism, especially in regards to Célestine.

Another element that clearly attracts Buñuel to Mirbeau's milieu is his preoccupation with the relationship between power and powerlessness as well as the ways in which we are controlled by our desires and, therefore, fantasies. Renoir has a very straightforward approach to the power dynamic between servants and masters, while Mirbeau has a bit more subtlety and complexity to his critique - unlike with Renoir, Mirbeau's working class isn't composed entirely of saints. Buñuel echoes Mirbeau, but takes things one step farther from Mirbeau's essentially Leftist class-warfare analyses. To his credit, Mirbeau sees that the wealthy and aristocratic can be as enslaved and humiliated by their desires as their servants: "Between the servants' hall and the salon there not such a distance of servitude as we think." However, he offers up repeated episodes where injustice of servitude rains purely downward and servants are abused and humiliated by comfortably self-satisfied masters. In that way, I would say Mirbeau's socio-political critique probably has more in common with Renoir's in that both men see the master/servant dynamic as essentially repulsive and society in need of overhaul. Buñuel's aristocrats are more human, more victim to the human condition and more sadly ossified in their social codes - to Buñuel, to be humiliated and frustrated by desire is inevitable; the rich and poor just have different sets of desires and, therefore, humiliations.

In this context, Célestine is such a perfect character for Buñuel, her coquettish charms, debauched desires and powerful fantasies of wealth and love being right in his wheelhouse. With Buñuel, beautiful women have always been a forceful symbol of the intersection of power and powerlessness: their beauty allows them to control men and, by extension, the world around them, but at the same time they cannot escape their physical selves and are entrapped by the desires their beauty provokes. Mirbeau's Célestine constantly runs into this conflict: she's hired for her beauty on more than one occasion, but also tormented by her constant objectification and the parade of creeps, perverts and gross old men who desire her. If she plays her cards right, she can exploit the situations, but exploiting the situations frequently requires prostitutions both figurative and literal.

The nature of Célestine's relationship to her beauty is a point of departure for Buñuel and Mirbeau. As I mentioned in the Mirbeau section, Célestine is "not for sale" and the film doesn't retain that aspect of her character. That Célestine sells out and marries Captain Mauger in the film presents a different character than the one in the novel that explicitly rejects such practical business-minded marriage proposals in favor of pursuing her compulsive attraction to Joseph or her romantic love of the consumptive M. Georges. I think Buñuel doesn't begrudge Célestine's completely logical willingness to become the enemy, as it were - again, he's not a cynic, even on the subject of cynicism. But this doesn't necessarily present a philosophical disagreement with the novel, which see Célestine's "not for sale" qualities as erratic, even illogical. I think that Mirbeau and his Célestine are simply more bitter than Buñuel and Moreau's version - Mirbeau's novel is fueled by the author's outrage, disappointment and disillusionment. Buñuel finds a discreet charm in the themes of "outrage," "disappointment" and "disillusionment."

It's funny, but when I went through to really catalogue the aspects of the 1964 film that only could have come from Buñuel, it's not clear to me how these essentially Buñuelian elements achieve his signature tone and perspective. Let's look at a few things added to his film that only could have come from him. First off, the scene where Mme. Monteil receives uncomfortable sex advice (and, uh, actually advice on uncomfortable sex) from a local priest. She begs for advice from the father as her over-sexed husband wants "it" constantly, but she finds intercourse too painful. This scene is just a classic Buñuel look at the weird relationship between sex and religion, sexual abnormality and how everyday life is almost entirely perverted and deranged. The priest obliquely advises her with the extremely Buñuelian line "there are caresses...and there are caresses" before declaring that whatever she does to relieve him, she herself should derive no pleasure from it. She assures him that will not be an issue. Problem solved! The scene is funny and strange and perverted while affecting a facade of a decent, moral conversation between two upright citizens.

Apart from the "caresses" line, there are a handful of lines written specifically for the film decisively imbued with Buñuel's deadpan sense of humor. At one point, Joseph declares "Scratch a Bolshevik and you'll find a Jew!" Buñuel has always been great at skewering semi-coherent anti-logic, especially the tortured logics of politics and moralism. Joseph's racist declaration can almost be made sense of, but not really - Buñuel specialized in those kind of transparently deranged aphorisms that attempt to link an unreasonable popular consensus with a base antipathy. These kind of quotes are a parody of statements designed to get heads nodding vigorously in agreement, but that don't express anything that makes actual sense - and Buñuel mines a dark humor from the logic of racists, the deluded and hypocrites.

In fact, later on Buñuel has Montiel justify his seduction of another poor housemaid with his statement to her about how while he might seem conservative, he believes in progressive ideas like l'amour fou. This joke gets echoed in Discreet Charm when Fernando Rey tells a beautiful young militant he's about to molest that they believe in some of the same things, "like free love." Buñuel is poking a little bit of fun both at M. Monteil's moral expediency - of course, he believes in a mad sexual passion; it's pretty fucking convenient (and convenient for pretty fucking) - but Buñuel is also taking a shot at the hollowness of a concept that can be so easily appropriated by its presumed enemies. Speaking of which, placing one of his former cohort André Breton's most famous Surrealists concepts into the mouth of Diary's most pathetic and repulsive character isn't a mistake.8

There's a few film/art history jabs in the film, most notably the potshot at l'amour fou and the epilogue of the film during which not only does Joseph chant "Vive Chiappe!" in support of the Prefect of Police who made Buñuel's life in France hell. The addition of Chiappe might actually be a more direct substitution for Bourget! Furthermore, the film ends with a series of jump-cuts, the only Nouvelle Vague-aping jump-cuts the aestheticism-averse filmmaker ever employed in his career. Buñuel is clearly tying the burgeoning French New Wave (Breathless was released just a few years before Diary) to the gaggle of French fascists chanting the name of his long-time enemy. The reasons for this connection are going to be subject to my idle speculation, but clearly Buñuel seemed to have a bit of antipathy for the Cahiers du Cinéma critics-turned-filmmakers, despite their veneration of his work (Truffaut being a particular fan). That the Cahiers critics were explicitly trying to destroy the French cinema unions, hated the Leftist Positif magazine and had close ties to the Vichy government (most notably Godard's longtime producer Georges de Beauregard) probably didn't sit well with a filmmaker who had spent his life on the opposite side of all of those battles. The fascist mob jump-cuts definitely feel a little like "yeah, I remember guys like you from my time in France." I won't go so far as to say he believed Godard to be a child-murdering rapist who whored out his wife to soldiers, but...there you have it.

Anyhoo, there's a litany of small details that are so Buñuel-specific that I kept fearing they would turn up in the book and undermine my near-religious fervor for Buñuel: the image of the slugs on the legs of Claire's corpse, the crazy old man using a shotgun to take down a butterfly, Célestine's garters as she slips into Joseph's bed for the first time. Before I read the novel, I worried that its most brilliant aspects would just be borrowed from Mirbeau - I don't know why, but I hated the idea that Buñuel's genius might have any precedent. Fortunately, despite his obvious connections to Mirbeau, there are so many elements of his film that only could Minerva'd out of his brain: another gloriously froggish Muni performance, a conversation interrupted as lines of dialogue are drowned out by the clopping of a passing horse (a joke repeated repeatedly in Discreet Charm), his sense of deadpan humor and a weird generosity of spirit towards the mean, the selfish, the murderous, the debauched, the greedy, the pathetic, the frigid and the stupid. Plus, he actually has Célestine break the expensive lamp globe imported from England, which Mirbeau wastes a long time setting up and then forgets about.

But, at the risk of disparaging two great artists in Mirbeau and Renoir, I think there's something in this film that demonstrates what separates greatness like Mirbeau's novel and Renoir at his best from the kind of excellence that survives centuries like Don Quixote, Gargantua and Pantagruel, Jacques le Fatalist...and Buñuel's film. Buñuel's work is palpably better: more brilliant in its philosophy, more complex in its characterizations, more original deep down in its bones. Any number of hacks could have made Renoir's Chambermaid and the fragments of Renoir's personality on display don't exactly make a case for him as an artist - his film's failure says a lot about his failures as an artist on the whole. More generously, there's no point in denying that Renoir achieved cinematic excellence on a regular basis: that we can still feel his personality so strongly in a film as worthless as his Diary reveals a final dividing line between "great" and "maybe the greatest ever." Similarly, there are many things to like about Mirbeau's novel, but the fact that Buñuel could so decisively improve upon it without transforming its soul indicates that it is more or less deserving of its status as a semi-forgotten curio.

I'm not sure whether Renoir and Mirbeau's ghosts should be happy that Buñuel effortlessly one-upped them with one more masterpiece in a filmography littered with them: certainly, both of their works would be forgotten or, at best, marginalized without Buñuel's brilliance casting light on their existence.

~ 2013 ~
1 There's no good place to mention this in an already lengthy article, but one thing Renoir and Buñuel do have in common is a shared aesthetic modesty that's unusual amongst the canonized geniuses of le cinema - they're the medium's most style-free legends. Unlike Welles or Hitchcock or Ozu or Bresson, it would be nearly impossible to spot a Buñuel or Renoir film just by looking at a single frame - they're deeply unostentatious in their visual conceptions and have no signature "look." They eschew camera movements that call attention to themselves, they're never overly aggressive in their framing and mise en scene and they don't get cutesy and show-off with their production design. Their films are insistently plain...but don't confuse that with a lack of precision, intelligence and genius in how their films are designed, composed and edited. There's a level on which any idiot can show off by having a really long tracking shot that goes over buildings and follows people then cars then, I don't know, a dog which goes into a discotheque. There's actually nothing aesthetically or intellectually special about a movie that appears to be made without any edits - that stuff is the equivalent of a really long guitar solo with a bunch of notes in it, the cinematic version of Yngwie Malmsteen. I'm not sure what metaphor I have for filmmakers who arrange actors with geometric precision within sterile landscapes and then have them stand very still or move through a bunch of striking poses while the camera is at some very low or very high or very tilted angle. Can I go with the cinematic Yngwie Malmsteen again? Everybody agrees he's a cheeseball, right? Bonus Malmsteen-points for any of these filmmakers who don't move the frame for minutes on end or track around very, very slowly for minutes on end. Anyhoo, Renoir and Buñuel cut that shit right out.
2 This character's section of the novel is pretty great/infuriating. He seduces Célestine and is so good in bed she becomes obsessed with him. His family isn't actually as financially stable as they appear to be, so he starts doing things like asking her to loan him money which he never pays back. But once he's bored of her, he gives her money after sex. Ouch. For her part, Célestine tries to play the perverted, adulterous father off of the son to her advantage in both directions, but gets totally humiliated.
3 In the book, he's a childish jerk who delights in throwing his trash in their yard, shattering their greenhouse windows, killing their cats and cutting down their trees just for the hell of it. If there's a motivation for his behavior, it's insignificant and definitely not an act of political defiance.
4 The list includes Open City, Brief Encounter, My Darling Clementine and Robert Siodmak's The Killers. Also, I have seen the list credited in several places as the "Best English Language Films" which (if true) makes it baffling that Open City and Goupi are in there. A Walk in the Sun also turns up on the list, making 1946 a banner year for Burgess Meredith, who had a hand in getting that film made (he narrates it as well). A Walk in the Sun is also terrible.
5 A third freeform narrative he made in France, The Milky Way, splits the difference by weaving a series of unconnected sketches (all based on true stories of heresy) around the journey of two pilgrims along the camino de santiago. It also skips through time/history in a way that neither Charm nor Phantom do so. And these three movies might be the most similar in all his filmography. I suppose if you want to get into it, Mexican Bus Ride and Illusion Travels By Streetcar both focus on a collection of character coming together on public transport, but the plots and tones of those films are so wildly different that we're splitting hairs here. Anyhoo, I'm not trying to be an absolutist about this, just pointing how how rare it was for him to go beat-for-beat with plot, setting, characters and themes the way he did with Viridiana and Diary.
6 Not an opinion. Pure fact.
7Me write good. And insight-y.
8 My personal bete noire is how anything Buñuel touched gets referred to as "Surrealist." Scratch a film reviewer and you will find a person who believes Diary of a Chambermaid is a Surrealist take on Mirbeau's novel. Buñuel made two authentically Surrealist films during his association with the group - that's it. Any "surreal" elements of his later films are purely the small "s" version of the term, which has been bastardized to mean "weird shit."