DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
WUTHERING HEIGHTS (Abismos de pasión) (director/writer: Luis Buñuel; screenwriters: from the novel by Emily Bronte/Julio Alejandro/Arduino Maiuri/Pierre Unik; cinematographer: Agustín Jiménez; editor: Carlos Savage; music: Wagner's music adapted by Raúl Lavista; cast: Jorge Mistral (Alejandro), Irasema Dilián (Catalina), Lilia Prado (Isabel), Ernesto Alonso (Eduardo), Francisco Reiguera (José), Hortensia Santoveña (María), Jaime González Quiñones (Jorge), Luis Aceves Castañeda (Ricardo); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Óscar Dancigers/Abelardo L. Rodríguez; Plexus; 1954-Mexico- in Spanish with English subtitles)

 
"Gains a power the other screen versions don't have through its unrelenting gothic ruthlessness."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Noted Spanish surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel takes a stab at doing Emily Bronte in this low-budget black and white version filmed in Mexico. It's too talky and has an overwrought dramatization that is all about setting a fierce gothic mood of sexual fever and deep emotional swings but has nothing to do with Bronte's story and substitutes a barren landscape of Mexico for a repressed pre-Victorian English society. Buñuel paints a grim picture through troubling images of the dreary ranch and farm houses, the barren hills and dessicated trees, the windlike heroine forced into accepting her ominous fate, the whipping rain storms, the buzzards making alarming noises in the yard and the deathlike prevailing atmosphere. The filmmaker follows the same story line as the 1939 William Wyler screen version, but gives it an unmistakable smouldering Mexican flavoring that is not without interest even though it has a different flavor from Bronte's novel by distancing itself too far from its two outsider protagonists .

Former servant Alejandro (Jorge Mistral) returns as a rich man to his boyhood home in rural Mexico after years of absence. He's driven to get revenge on the rich family that humiliated him as a youth and prevented him from marrying the only one he ever loved, Cathy (Irasema Dilián). She's now married to her wealthy bourgeois neighbor, the effete Eduardo (Ernesto Alonso), as she couldn't be certain if Alejandro would ever return for her and she needed to marry a man with substance. Her love for butterfly collector Eduardo is more refined, ordinary and of this world, while her unswerving love for Alejandro is passionate, eternal and without any boundaries. At one point Cathy mentions that she loves Alejandro ''more than the salvation of my soul.''

The former stable boy, who mysteriously accumulated great wealth, has schemed to get Cathy's brutish, abusive, slovenly, drunken and in debt gambler brother Ricardo (Luis Aceves Castañeda) under his thumbs. Ricardo has lost his farm house to gambling debts and Alejandro now holds the mortgage, choosing to allow those he hates such as Ricardo, his young abused son Jorge and the embittered two-faced servant Jose to remain in the house with him. Cathy is his adopted sister; her father adopted the orphan and then used him in an abusive way to do the farm work. 

The overbaked melodrama reaches a high pitch with Cathy seeing Alejandro, and the jealous Eduardo eventually telling her to choose between them while forbidding her to ever see Alejandro again. The pregnant Cathy chooses to stay and obey her hubby. Alejandro then puts plan No. 2 into play and lures the love sick animal-friendly sister of Eduardo, Isabel (Lilia Prado), to elope with him. Their marriage is one conceived in hell, whereas the gullible Isabel lives in misery in the farm house, in a separate bedroom from her hateful husband, and is surrounded by Cathy's remaining family members who all fiercely despise her. To boot, Eduardo refuses to allow poor Isabel to return--telling his gossipy servant Maria that she got what she deserved.

It's ultimately a story about how closely linked together are love and death (check out the sublime ending where a ghostly image of love turns into a shotgun blast) and how the weak characters are at the mercy of their basic instincts and uncontrollable passions. Buñuel pokes fun at the so-called civilized Eduardo and Isabel, and holds them up to ridicule for being so smug in their beliefs about goodness and of being more capable of doing harm to others than are those who made a pact with the Devil. Therefore, ironically, they will be saved in the end. While Alejandro and Cathy are perceived as heathens, who have also lost their humanness by being overwhelmed by their passions, hatreds and fears. Though they can't be saved in this world, Buñuel reserves a place for them in the afterlife where their deep love can be understood.

Though the film loses much of its force by discarding Bronte's framing scheme it, nevertheless, gains a power the other screen versions don't have through its unrelenting gothic ruthlessness.

REVIEWED ON 4/16/2006        GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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