NAZARIN
 

Directed by Luis Bunuel. 1958.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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"If other people's idea of happiness consists of dreams of wealth, for me happiness is to dream of poverty, to delight in the very thought of it and, when things go wrong, to imagine something worse."- Father Nazario


In his films about morality and the church such as Viridiana, director Luis Bunuel has attacked the self-deception of those whose "pure" Christianity comes into conflict with the demands of society. In the masterful 1958 film Nazarin, Father Nazario (Francisco Rabal), a Catholic Priest, tries to imitate Christ by living a life of self-denial. He surrounds himself with prostitutes, beggars, thieves, and dwarfs and freely shares his meagre resources with others but finds that his actions only produce distressing results. Based on the novel by Benito Perez Galdos, the film is about a gentle but sanctimonious priest in rural Mexico in 1900. Naively unconcerned with his own best interests, he provides refuge to Andara (Rita Macedo), a prostitute who has just killed another street girl in a knife fight. When he also befriends Andara's sister Beatriz (Marga Lopez), suspicions arise among his superiors about his behaviour. Forced to leave the church, he remains steadfast in his beliefs, going on the road dressed as a peasant and begging for alms. The sister's soon join him as disciples in his saintly pilgrimage after a dying girl regains her health as a result of his prayers.

Nazario's best intentions prove fruitless, however. He agrees to work on a road crew for food but in so doing creates a labour dispute that leads to violence. His guidance is again rejected when he volunteers to help a woman dying of the plague, asking her to picture what Heaven looks like. In spite of the priest's equation of sexual desire with sin, all she wants is one more visit from her husband and lover. Arrested and thrown into prison with Andara, Nazarin's life becomes more and more Christ-like in its agony. He is beaten by a thug and begins to question his faith when he is unable to forgive his assailant. 

Is Father Nazario an impractical fool trying to live by unrealistic ideals, or is he a modern-day Christ, sentenced by a soulless world to endure a similar fate? Bunuel sends us mixed messages. He attacks the hypocrisy of the church for not living up to the teachings of Christ and seems to admire the priest for his rebellion against accepted social norms. Yet ultimately Nazario is just a sad and forlorn human being. Condemned by the church as a "nonconforming rebel", scorned by a society that does not understand his passion, he carries his "crown of thorns" to an uncertain end, perhaps realizing at last that his self-satisfied idealism did not include understanding the true nature of his humanity. 
 

Howard Schumann
 
 
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