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The Criterion Collection presents
Simon of the Desert (1965)

“My love for you must not come between my Lord and his servant.”
- Simon (Claudio Brook)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: February 16, 2009

Stars: Claudio Brook, Silvia Pinal
Other Stars: Francisco Reiguera, Antonio Bravo
Director: Luis Buñuel

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult situations, nudity)
Run Time: 00h:45m:32
Release Date: February 10, 2009
UPC: 715515042017
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+B+C+ B

DVD Review

The great Luis Buñuel is perhaps best known among casual film fans for a startling sequence of a woman’s eyeball being slit open with a knife in his first film, Un Chien Andalou. While you won’t find anything like that in his 1965 masterpiece Simon of the Desert, you will still find plenty of the trademark surrealism that cinema buffs continue to adore the filmmaker for. Buñuel originally planned Simon as part of an anthology showcasing the immense talent of actress Silvia Pinal (Viridiana), but he never filmed the other two parts of that daunting project. What was shot and released does, indeed, feature some of Pinal’s best work, and is one of the best short films of all time.

Simon (Claudio Brook) is an Ascetic priest who has put himself atop a tall pillar in the middle of the desert. He spends his days praying to God and preaching to the masses who visit him at the bottom of the pillar. In-between working miracles and exorcising demons from his ground-dwelling flock, Simon is visited by Satan in various forms. He first appears as a young schoolgirl (Silvia Pinal), who uses her naked body to try and coax Simon down from his pedestal. Satan then appears as a shepherd (Pinal again), and finally as a half-clothed woman who travelled in a coffin to Simon’s pillar. It is this final visit that offers the priest’s ultimate temptation and could change his religious philosophy forever.

This fascinating film packs more into its short running time (45 minutes) than practically any of the features littering our multiplexes these days. While at first, it might bring to mind the final act of Martin Scorcese’s incredible The Last Temptation of Christ (I’d be shocked if Marty wasn’t at least slightly influenced by this), the movie relies far more on what we don’t see than what we did during Jesus’ fascinating “What If?” journey. Buñuel has much more to say about society as a whole, as the last five minutes here makes Satan’s final appearance to Simon sit with us long after “Fin” appears on the screen.

Rife with symbolism, as so many of Buñuel’s works are, we see our fair share of interesting imagery. Nearly all of Simon’s visitors are vital to the tightly written story here, but there are a few standouts. They involve the various incarnations that Satan comes to Simon as, with the most appealing (to the males in the audience, at least) being the first appearance by the lovely Silvia Pinal. Her actions in this sequence are those of a young girl, annoyingly singing and prancing around, but when she sits down and reveals her stocking legs to Simon, it is clear that this is the first time the devil is appearing to him. While Simon is instantly onto Satan in this instance and in the rest of his appearances, it’s Pinal’s work that sets the stage and tone for this, Buñuel’s clinic in short filmmaking.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film is presented in its original full frame format, and features a brand new, restored high-definition digital transfer. The result of the clean-up effort is a pristine look that includes amazing grayscale and well-handled contrast levels. The images are nicely detailed, despite some remaining dirt and grain.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original Spanish mono audio track is also quite good, although a slightly annoying hiss can be heard in the background through most of the film. The dialogue is crystal clear and well-blended into the overall mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Silvia Pinal – Interview with the actress.
Extras Review: We get a couple of great extras here, including A Mexican Buñuel. This 1997 documentary, produced by Emilio Maillé, is actually longer than Simon of the Desert itself, as it clocks in at 55 minutes. This is a brilliant look at Buñuel’s Mexican films made between 1947 and 1965, and despite some insightful interviews with those who knew the man, the best part of this piece are the numerous clips from those films.

There’s also an interview with actress Silvia Pinal that was recorded exclusively for The Criterion Collection in Mexico City in January of 2006. This six-minute piece finds Pinal reflecting on her work in Simon of the Desert, which she calls the film that she most enjoyed making with Luis Buñuel.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Luis Buñuel’s Simon of the Desert is a great way to introduce yourself to the master’s surreal works. This thoroughly engaging film is helped by powerhouse performances by stars Claudio Brook and Silvia Pinal, who help create a series of lasting images that will stay with the audience for years to come. The Criterion Collection does another fine job, giving us a single-disc effort that features excellent audio and video, and a pair of great extras.


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