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Criterion: The Milky Way

Pierre and Jean are two pilgrims who journey from Paris to Santiago de Campostella in Spain to visit the religious shrine of Saint James. What ostensibly begins as a religious road trip becomes a scathing critique of Catholicism as told through the surreal eyes of Luis Buñuel. The Milky Way is as strong today as it was when first released in 1969 and the newly released Criterion Collection DVD will divide film viewers into two camps: those who see it as hysterical satire or those who will view it as hateful anti-clericalism and indeed, the film is filled with images bound to shock both sides.

The two poverty stricken Pilgrims are shunned away as if they were homeless bums by the same people who profess their love of Christianity. But they bear witness to anarchists who shoot the Pope, a priest who extols the virtues of Christ only to be hustled off to an insane asylum. They watch a nun crucified for heresy. They observe Jesus preparing to give himself a morning shave and many more. Buñuel marries hard hitting satire with Lynchian imagery that will undoubtedly upset the sensibilities of traditional middle-class society, expose its hypocrisy as well as the evils of those who hold religion as dogma. I can only wonder how such a 21st century Buñuel would fare if the object of his anti-clerical satire were directed against Islam.

As part of its many extras, screenwriter Jean Claude Carriere discusses how he concocted the story with Buñuel and decided that the film would be saturated with religion and one would be hard pressed to locate a scene where it isn’t discussed. Whether it a wealthy, bourgeoisie restaurateur discussing the validity of the Holy Trinity or the Marquis De Sade rationally explaining the evils of Christianity while torturing a girl, Buñuel packs the film in such a way that leaves one inevitably shaken and provoked by the baseness of people. I particularly liked the extra on the DVD which include a interview with British film historian Ian Christie which is worthy of a university philosophy discussion. The Milky Way DVD becomes available in stores August 21 for $29.95.

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