In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Luis Buñuel

  • Introduction
  • Overviews
  • Biography and Autobiography
  • Interviews and Creative Writings
  • Documentaries about Buñuel and DVD Features
  • Anthologies
  • Surveys of Spanish and World Cinema
  • Surrealism and Film Form
  • Philosophy and Religious Thought
  • Psychoanalysis, Gender, and Sexuality
  • Avant-Garde Films
  • Mexican Period Films
  • Films from the Return to Europe in the 1960s and 1970s

Cinema and Media Studies Luis Buñuel
Elizabeth Scarlett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0207


Luis Buñuel’s directorial career began with a slit eyeball and ended with an explosion. In between, he became the foremost surrealist working in film, the last great director of classical Mexican cinema, and a mentor and patriarch for European New Wave film. Buñuel’s films were banned and censored; some were almost lost or destroyed for good. He won top prizes at Cannes and Venice. He is the answer to the metamorphosing satirical genius of Goya and Cervantes in the world of the moving image. Buñuel’s targets were sexual repression, bourgeois morality, and authoritarian social institutions. Research continues on Luis Buñuel because his multifarious oeuvre lends itself to multiple methodologies, remains open to interpretation, and points to the future of humanity while questioning its past. Pedagogically, Buñuel represents the perfect entryway to European or Latin American cinema, the Spanish grotesque, or the impact of Freud, Marx, and Darwin on the arts. Director of thirty-two films spanning forty-nine years, generically he ranged from avant-garde experimentalism, through popular comedy, musical, romance, horror, and melodrama, documentary and social issue cinema, literary adaptation, and on to art-house tour de force. He not only mastered, but also transformed or subverted most of the genres in which he worked. Buñuel figures in the national cinemas of Spain, Mexico, and France, and is credited with two English-language films. He was born with the 20th century, in the Aragonese village of Calanda, and grew up mainly in Zaragoza. He attended a Jesuit school, and went on to university in Madrid in 1917, where he met Salvador Dalí, Federico García Lorca, and others of the Generation of 1927. He and Dalí joined the surrealist movement in Paris in 1929. From then onward his life would be marked by political tumult, diasporic experience, and transatlantic migrations. He made movies quickly, at times obeying the urgency of extreme financial and industrial constraints. The spontaneity of free association collides with his insistence on lucidly portraying dialectical struggles between the powerful and the disenfranchised, old and young, male and female, religious fanatic and libertine, often with dark humor and always with irony. This, in addition to the absolute value he placed on freedom, and his refusal to be reduced to a single belief statement, keeps interest alive in his films, especially those embraced as masterpieces: Un chien andalou (1928), LÂge d’or (1930), Tierra sin pan (1933), Los olvidados (1950), Él (1953), Viridiana (1961), El ángel exterminador (1962), Belle de jour (1966), Tristana (1970), Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972), Le Fantôme de la liberté (1974), and Cet obscur objet du désir (1977).


The most definitive biographical-critical manual for scholars and advanced students is available in Spanish only (Sánchez Vidal 1999). Krohn 2005 favors photos over text but makes a fine coffee-table book for enthusiasts and collectors. Tesson 1995 conducts a sober career retrospective for those who read French. Higginbotham 1979 pigeonholes him as a moralist, but aside from this heavy-handedness supplies a useful introduction in English. At mid-career, Buñuel was championed by opinion-shaping critics like Kyrou 1963 and Bazin 1982, integrating him into the surrealist legacy and existentialism, respectively. Also illuminating as snapshots of the Buñuelian legend in its germinal phase are Buache 1973, Drouzy 1978, and Durgnat 1968.

  • Bazin, André. “Luis Buñuel.” In The Cinema of Cruelty: From Buñuel to Hitchcock. Edited by François Truffaut, 50–99. Translated by Sabine d’Estrée. New York: Seaver, 1982.

    The French critic was Buñuel’s correspondent and friend from 1952 until his untimely death in 1958. With his existentialist reviews, he incited recognition of the surrealist who had seemingly disappeared into postwar exile, placing him on the level of great European, Asian, and Hollywood directors of intellect and social reflection.

  • Buache, Freddy. The Cinema of Luis Buñuel. Translated by Peter Graham. London: Tantivy, 1973.

    This career retrospective is especially adept at articulating the subversive symbolism in psychosexual and socio-political terms of his films up to and including Tristana. The author is a Swiss journalist and film critic who manages a balance of critical insight with bouncy narrative. Originally published in French as Buñuel (Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1970).

  • Drouzy, Maurice. Luis Buñuel: Architecte du rêve. Paris: L’Herminier, 1978.

    The former French Dominican friar turned Danish film studies professor uses a dreamwork thread to unite the director’s film production, with focus on his first two films plus El ángel exterminador, Tristana, and the French productions from Belle de jour through Le Fantôme de la liberté. Many black and white photos.

  • Durgnat, Raymond. Luis Buñuel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

    Though its Freudianism now sounds dated, this early analysis is adept at defining the universal issues expressed in cinematic language. Ranging from rapid-fire insights to hasty and hit-or-miss conclusions, it nonetheless captures the director’s witty anti-sentimentality and places it in dialogue with the Western cultural tradition.

  • Higginbotham, Virginia. Luis Buñuel. Boston: Twayne, 1979.

    This Twayne series guide downplays his avant-garde subversion, but the author incorporates intertextual dialogue with other films while introducing readers to his major themes and filmic techniques. Casts the director as a moralist who satirizes social codes for their ironic production of aberrant human behavior.

  • Krohn, Bill. Luis Buñuel: The Complete Films. Edited by Paul Duncan. Cologne: Taschen, 2005.

    A sumptuous album of color stills and other photos related to the movies, with savvy text. Begins with the director’s frequent obsessions (legs, feet, insects, guns) and groups the remaining chapters around the stages of his career. Stunning images with non-scholarly text that often paints with too broad a brush.

  • Kyrou, Ado. Luis Buñuel: An Introduction. Translated by Adrienne Foulke. World of Film. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963.

    Biographically inaccurate, this essential early critical source for the specialist is concerned with vindicating the director as a true surrealist. Begins with a life and works rundown; continues with Buñuel’s own cinematic writings and excerpts from his interviews and screenplays. Ends with testimony from cultural notables. Originally published in French as Bunuel (Paris: Pierre Seghers, 1962).

  • Sánchez Vidal, Agustín. Luis Buñuel. 3d ed. Madrid: Cátedra, 1999.

    After an expert survey of leitmotivs in the first chapter, a life-and-works summary occupies the second. The third chapter arranges quotations from the director after each film. The fourth chapter divides the filmography into periods. The fifth chapter occupies nearly half of the book, giving a concise outline of the plot and themes of each film he directed. This is followed by a filmography of his non-directorial efforts.

  • Tesson, Charles. Luis Buñuel. Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma, 1995.

    The influential French film journal paid homage to Buñuel with this overview in its “Auteurs” series accentuating surrealism, the sense of the absurd, and perversion. The author takes into account the director’s many contradictions and paradoxes, his extreme pessimism, and the sophistication of his film technique.

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