Death In The Garden. Luis Buñuel’s Underseen Action Film.
Death In The Garden lies somewhat forgotten in the oeuvre of a filmmaker like Luis Buñuel. Made in 1958 in the middle of his tenure in Mexico.
A revolutionary, fighting spirit opens Death In The Garden, as a group of put-upon diamond miners make a stand against the military regime under which their vicinity stands. There are shades of the American Western in these opening beats of the film, and in many ways it acts as an unlikely prototype for the Hollywood event disaster movies of the 1970’s, in which big names find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Amongst the character archetypes on display here are the prostitute, the priest and the outlaw, with real stars of the French cinema such as Simone Signoret and Michel Piccoli among those assembled to play them.
The picture gradually descends in to more familiar Buñuel territory as the film moves further along, with delirium setting in within his protagonists and the form of the picture reflecting this. The film is about a journey through a neverending jungle to freedom, with the setting overwhelming and informing every facet of the movie. The deeper the group find themselves in the horticultural prison, the more fractured the form of the picture becomes. The sight of a snake’s carcass being claimed by ants is as unsettling as anything in Un Chien Andalou, while a scenes of life around the Arc de Triomphe eventually reveal themselves to be nothing more than the fruit of the frenzied imagination of a man slowly going insane.
Buñuel is a filmmaker who we thing we know everything about: arch-surrealist, experimental iconoclast, but as this underseen, underrated movie proves, there is much to be celebrated on the fringes of his more notable work.