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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • A Mexican Buñuel (1995), 50-minute documentary by Emilio Maillé
  • New interview with actress Silvia Pinal

Simon of the Desert


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By:
Starring: Claudio Brooks, , , Francisco Reiquera, , Antonio Bravo, Enrique del Castillo, Silvia Pinal
1965 | 45 Minutes | Licensor: Video Mercury

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $24.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #460
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: February 10, 2009
Review Date: January 27, 2009

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SYNOPSIS

Simon of the Desert is Luis Buñuel's wicked and wild take on the life of devoted ascetic Saint Simeon Stylites, who waited atop a pillar surrounded by a barren landscape for six years, six months, and six days, in order to prove his devotion to God. Yet the devil, in the figure of the beautiful Silvia Pinal, huddles below, trying to tempt him down. A skeptic's vision of human conviction, Buñuel's short and sweet satire is one of the master filmmaker's most renowned works of surrealism.

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PICTURE

Criterion presents Luis Buñuel’s short film Simon of the Desert in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. Like its companion release, The Exterminating Angel, the image has been pictureboxed, presenting a black border around the entire frame.

I was surprised to see the image quality is actually a bit better than the picture presented on Criterion’s DVD for The Exterminating Angel, if only by a small margin. Angel looks pretty good, having been extensively restored, it’s only real problem being a flicker throughout the film. The image on this disc lacks that flicker and I believe the image for Simon is actually a little sharper as well. Overall we’re presented with a lovely looking black and white picture, with sharp detail (you can make out the individual hairs in Claudio Brook’s beard—and the hairs in Silvia Pinal’s) and very little in the way of damage. Contrast is excellent, presenting strong blacks, whites, and grays, and there are no noticeable artifacts. Another stellar black and white transfer from Criterion.

7/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The Dolby Digital mono track also sounds better than Criterion’s Exterminating Angel DVD. It still has a slight hiss to it but it’s faint. Sound quality otherwise is generally sharp, though the final few minutes of the film, which gets considerably louder, does turn into a bit of a distorted mess.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

A couple of supplements are included on this disc. First is the 55-minute documentary A Mexican Buñuel, covering the director’s career in Mexico. After a quick early bio it steps through his Mexican films starting with Gran Casino (a large flop) all the way through Simon of the Desert, though it spends a good chunk of its time on Los olvidados (even including an intriguing alternate ending, that I at least wasn’t aware of.) I rather enjoyed this documentary, more than I enjoyed the documentary found on the second disc of The Exterminating Angel, this one probably being aided by the fact there is interview footage of Buñuel, and I also liked an interview with a farmer who still has a chunk of the column from the Simon of the Desert shoot stuck in his field (it’s too heavy for him to move.) Good documentary and worth watching if you're an admirer of Buñuel's work. It's narrated in English with most interviews in Spanish and is presented in 1.33:1.

And finally we get another interview segment with Silvia Pinal, this one only running 6 and a half minutes. This was her favourite film with the director, and was disappointed it wasn’t finished as intended (the film, running only 45-minutes, was supposed to be longer but they ran out of money during production.) She also comments on doing the nude sequences and the ending, and also gets into the reasons why her and Buñuel would stop working with each other. It’s very short, but very informative.

And finally we get a 28-page booklet, presenting an essay on the film by Michael Wood, and yet another excerpt from an interview between Buñuel, and film critics Jose de la Colina and Tomas Perez Turrent. Exceprts from this interview appear in all of the Criterion Buñuel releases (if I recall correctly) and the excerpts focus specifically on the film included on the disc. Both make for an excellent read, and I always find interviews with Buñuel fascinating, especially since he can be so vague, like when asked about the ending of Simon of the Desert, answering he was unsure why he filmed the ending he did.

Only a couple of supplements but they’re informative and worth your time. Again, a commentary would have been nice, but I felt more satisfied with this release than I did with The Exterminating Angel.

6/10

CLOSING

A cheaper Criterion release with a suggested price of $24.95 (meaning you can probably find it for between $15 and $18 on some websites) it is a bargain. The transfer looks quite good and the few supplements we do get are of excellent quality, leaving a better impression on me than the two-disc Exterminating Angel DVD. An excellent release for this short film.


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