Instructor Insights

Film Selections and Viewing Experiences

In this section, Prof. Garrels discusses the number and frequency of Buñuel films that were shared with students throughout the years the course was taught. She notes that the films were viewed in their original languages and that students were provided with materials to support their comprehension. She also shares that collectively viewing the films in class had important instructional, social, and aesthetic implications.

Number and Frequency of Films Taught

During his career, Buñuel directed 32 films, but he was also actively engaged, in various roles, in the making of a number of others. These roles included assistant to the director, producer, supervisor and editor, actor, and film-script writer.  During the seven times the Buñuel course was offered at MIT, a total of 19 of the films he directed were shown and studied at least once. In addition, in 2013, the 1937 propaganda documentary that Buñuel supervised and edited for the government of the Second Spanish Republic also appeared in the curriculum. Of the 19 directed films, 9 were taught seven times. These 9 films included Buñuel’s first and last films, the only documentary he directed himself (“Las Hurdes,” 1932), five films he made in Spanish, and “Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie” (1972). 

Because the course was taught in Spanish, and students, whether non-native or native speakers, were encouraged and guided to improve their oral, aural, and written language skills, preference was given to Spanish-language films.  Also, since Buñuel’s work spanned both the silent and sound periods of film history, and the later films were made in three different languages (Spanish, French, and English), four of the films always taught included two silent films and two French films. The films consistently featured in the course were: 

  1. “Un Chien Andalou” (France, silent, 1929), with English subtitles
  2. “Las Hurdes” (Spain, silent with narrative voice-over subsequently added, 1932)
  3. “Los olvidados” (Mexico, Spanish, 1950)
  4. “Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie” (France, French, 1972), with English subtitles
  5. “Ensayo de un crimen” (Mexico, Spanish, 1955)
  6. “Viridiana” (Spain, Spanish, 1961)
  7. “El ángel exterminador” (Mexico, Spanish, 1962)
  8. “Tristana” (Spain, Spanish, 1970)
  9. “Cet Obscur Objet du Désir” (France/Spain, French, 1977), with English subtitles

The remaining eleven films taught selectively were:

  1. “L’Age d’Or” (France, silent, 1930), with English subtitles - 3 times
  2. “Espagne 1937” (France, narrated originally in French, 1937) - 1 time (“España leal en armas, with Spanish narration = version used)
  3. “Susana” (Mexico, Spanish, 1950) - 3 times
  4. “Una mujer sin amor” (Mexico, Spanish, 1951) - 2 times
  5. “El bruto” (Mexico, Spanish, 1952) - 1 time
  6. “El” (Mexico, Spanish, 1953) - 6 times
  7. “Nazarín” (Mexico, Spanish, 1958) - 6 times
  8. “The Young One” (Mexico, English, 1960) - 1 time
  9. “Journal d’une Femme de Chambre” (France, French, 1964), with English subtitles - 1 time
  10. “Simón del desierto” (Mexico, Spanish, 1965) - 3 times
  11. “Belle de Jour” (France, French, 1967), with English subtitles - 2 times

All seven syllabi are available within this OCW course. Those interested should consult these syllabi individually to see the orders in which these films were taught. The one film that was consistently taught out of chronological order, “Le Charme Discret” (1972), was taught toward the beginning of the semester to show students how many of the procedures of the early surrealist silent films were retained and developed by Buñuel, who, at the end of his career, had access to relatively large budgets and was able to produce glossy color films with high production values.

Viewing Films in their Original Languages

"Since all seven class groupings were inevitably characterized by uneven language-skill levels, ample support materials (i.e. film-scripts, criticism, etc.) were consistently made available to students in English."
— Elizabeth Garrels

Films viewed in class (with the exception of “Espagne,” 1937) were viewed in their original language. When this language was French, these films were accompanied by English-language subtitles. When available, the Spanish-language films also included English subtitles. Only one Spanish-language film, “Ensayo de un crimen” (1955), was available to us for several years without subtitles. Since all seven class groupings were inevitably characterized by uneven language-skill levels, ample support materials (i.e. film-scripts, criticism, etc.) were consistently made available to students in English. Each film was initially screened in class, after a brief introduction by the professor. At the conclusion of the in-class screening, students orally shared their first impressions. In addition, students were always encouraged to see all the films outside of class as often as they wished or could (first, in MIT’s language lab, and in later years, through copies of the films that could be borrowed and viewed on campus or elsewhere, and through online video or streaming services).

Shared Film-Viewing Experiences

Watching each film for the first time in class was important because it guaranteed that all students would see the film at least once, and it gave students the opportunity to ask quick questions about language meaning, as well as about what was happening in the film. Equally important, it was a shared social and aesthetic experience. Everyone got to see and hear how others reacted and to gauge their own reactions accordingly. In short, it was similar to watching a movie in a theatre, and this was significant because all of Buñuel’s films were intended to be viewed by a theatre audience. Viewing the films in class also gave the week’s work a predictable, yet varied rhythm, which made the work more fun.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2013
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Written Assignments
Instructor Insights