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J.A.A. Purves

The Milky Way (1969)

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I'm starting a discussion thread for this now. It looks like there are at least a few films out there that we ought to discuss as we mull over what any pilgrimage/road movie for our Top 25 list should consist of. It's #1 on my Netflix queue, so I'll comment more on this in a couple days.

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Super!

Here's this and this. There's also an interesting interview with Buñuel Criterion included in the booklet that they do not make available online, that I will be happy to quote from if made necessary. I had no idea this release was out of print R1! Apparently it was one of the ones knocked out of Criterion by Lionsgate via StudioCanal releases.

I'm very interested in hearing your thoughts, especially from a fresh first time viewing. I'd especially like to hear your reaction to the duel between the Jansenist and the Jesuit. I adored that scene. Or really, anything that struck you. Or confused you. (It can be a terribly blissful confusion, as encounters with Buñuel so often are.)

I'm trying to dig out an old essay I wrote, but it was so long ago I have no idea where it is. I may just have to rewatch and make some new notes.

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FWIW, a brief tangential blog post on "nuances in translation" that I wrote after seeing the film four years ago:

I was amused to see that I remembered just enough of my high-school French to catch a play-on-words that is missed by the subtitles. Near the end of the film, the beggar-pilgrims Pierre and Jean -- two modern blokes who have been traipsing through various periods in Catholic history on their way across Spain -- meet a prostitute who asks them, "Got any money?" Jean tells her, "We even have gold." The striking thing about this exchange is that the French word for money, as used by this prostitute, is
argent
, which literally means "silver". So the dialogue refers, essentially, to "silver and gold", a metallic duo that
in the Bible. I wouldn't want to read too much into that reference, but it
is
kind of cute.

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Here's my own review from 2007.

Matt

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So I've seen the first half of this and was interrupted by the holidays and I've now had this sitting around waiting for me to finish it for far far too long. It's very good, and I've been dying to see the rest of it.

I'm starting it over and finishing it tomorrow. Also, after seeing only the first half, I can at least say with complete conviction that this is another MUST SEE before voting in the pilgrimage poll.

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Had the pleasure of watching a good print of this with J. Robert Parks at the Siskel. One of my favorite theater-going experiences.

Edit: I realize this is not a substantive comment, but it is good A&F lore.

Edited by M. Leary

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Doesn't look like I'll be able to see this before voting on Wednesday. I've decided to take on Bunuel this year, though. I've seen a dozen or so of his films over the years but want to get a better sense of his work. I've just begun reading his autobiography, My Last Sigh, which is fantastic. The first short chapter, in which he discusses memory, is like a little passkey to the surrealist bent of his films.

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I started over, saw the whole thing, and started writing a review of it but probably won't have it finished by Wednesday.

So, in summation, this is a film where two pilgrims are walking through a strange a wonderful world filled with popes and atheist french philosophers, and other religious and historical characters walking across the screen. It then includes flashbacks to parts of the gospels with a Jesus who is ... well, while he's very human, he never actually does anything that goes along with any of the many heresies discussed and debated in the film. This a pilgrimage through history and the modern world where waiters, policemen, bartenders and anyone you meet on the street is thinking about Jesus and openly discussing theology. You identify with the 2 pilgrims as they meet and watch all these saintly or crazy or lovely or fanatical or hellbent characters all traversing through question after question (while trading friendly drinks or dueling sword-blows). The 2 pilgrims look seem half the time and then engage in conversations and debates of their own half the time.

It's a film that makes many of the things people in the church fight over seem silly - but it makes many of the same things seem like it's worth finding the right answer. The pilgrims also see a number of miracles on their journey. And yet, each miracle is ambiguous. And yet, each miracle is ambiguous as looked at through the modern point of view. And Bunuel is constantly contrasting modern and historical the whole time. Time is bent backwards during the pilgrimage so that modern day views and reactions mix with history.

The existence or nonexistence of God, the incarnation of Christ, the humanity & divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, the virgin Mary, the possibility of miracles, stigmata, communion, transubstantiation, Gnosticism, Priscillianism, the problem of evil, irresistible grace or universal atonement, legalism, Pelagianism and free will, and other much debated topics all appear in this film as the two pilgrims make their way from France to Spain.

I'm not sure how much of Bunuel's extravagance here works - and it is quite extravagant - but it's absolutely a film made to provoke the audience into thought. Thus, it's a film that will now be highly enjoyable to show my friends (Christian or not) because it's a surefire conversation starter.

Definitely completely worthy of making our Top 25 list of Pilgrimage films. In fact, it'd almost be a crime if it didn't make it.

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I agree, Persiflage. Your comments here are helpful. Between this and Nazarin (which should have been nominated also), I can't help but think that Bunuel was one of the finest Christian filmmakers of his era.

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Between this and Nazarin (which should have been nominated also), I can't help but think that Bunuel was one of the finest Christian filmmakers of his era.

...don't you think Bunuel himself would find this description at least wickedly ironic? Especially with regard to Nazarin, a film that is certainly profoundly engaged with Christianity, but as profoundly a cross-examination of Christianity and a declaration of its irrelevance as it is possible for a film to be.

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Between this and Nazarin (which should have been nominated also), I can't help but think that Bunuel was one of the finest Christian filmmakers of his era.

...don't you think Bunuel himself would find this description at least wickedly ironic? Especially with regard to Nazarin, a film that is certainly profoundly engaged with Christianity, but as profoundly a cross-examination of Christianity and a declaration of its irrelevance as it is possible for a film to be.

Yes, which is why I like to proclaim it. It is profoundly wicked. Nazarin is an indictment of a particular form of Christianity that was decades ahead of similar theological critiques from Catholic and Protestant theologians coming to grips with the modern nature of mission and charity.

Would I go all the way with Bunuel's cross-examination of Christianity? No. But I can't think of too many theologians I am completely on board with. Sadly, he fails to grasp the way the incarnation and rationality relate - but the way he pushes a tradition in Christian ethics to its extreme is spot on. Decades later, Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor would similarly talk about liberal American politics as espousing a "charity that leads to the gas chamber."

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Sadly, he fails to grasp the way the incarnation and rationality relate - but the way he pushes a tradition in Christian ethics to its extreme is spot on.

I had a fun email exchange with my friend Girish a few weeks ago after I watched Bunuel's Death in the Garden for the first time (it's a masterpiece, by the way), and I concluded on very much the same point. Ultimately, Bunuel fails on the most essential point of Christianity -- the transcendent hope of grace -- but he is so deeply engaged with religious tradition and theology, particularly as it's made real in the world, that I can forgive him that "small" failing.

I just finished watching The Milky Way for the first time and am still reeling from the final scene, which recontextualizes one of Christ's famous teachings in a radical and deeply cynical way.

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