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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

LA MORT EN CE JARDIN / DEATH IN THE GARDEN (aka DIAMOND HUNTERS) (1956)

This underappreciated French/Mexican co-production from grand master Luis Buñuel makes a striking DVD debut in this eye-popping TransFlux transfer of a near-mint EastmanColor print. It begins at a diamond mining site (situated about a jungle & a half east of Brazil) just as the weary prospectors are ordered to close up shop since the local military/fascist government is 'nationalizing' their claims. Back in town, the men decide to resist the land grab, but their protests turn violent just as their numerical advantage evaporates with the arival of 'regular' army troops. In spite of some perfunctory staging, this opening half holds up best, with Buñuel effortlessly detailing an underlying mood of violence & venality. And what a merciless line up of desperate characters he finds to make his case! Even when innocent bystanders find themselves at the mercy of 'official justice,' nobody’s pushing empathy buttons. Visually, Buñuel & lenser Jorge Stahl bring off densely packed, color-saturated interiors that Diego Rivera would recognize, and jail cells out of Goya. If only the second half of the film maintained this level of interest. But once we flee town, down the river and on foot thru the jungle, even superb perfs from Simone Sigornet’s seen-it-all tart, Charles Vanel’s protective father, Michel Piccoli’s honorable priest, and the anti-heroism of Georges Marchal can’t disguise the banal events. Though a particularly Buñuelesque version of manna from heaven makes up for a lot.

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