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Death in the Garden (La mort en ce jardin) - arthouse and international DVD / foreign language DVD / drama DVD / action adventure DVD review
(La mort en ce jardin)
Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 stars
Featuring: Simone Signoret, Charles Vanel, Georges Marchal, Michel Piccoli, Tito Junco
Director: Luis Bu˝uel   Distributor: Microcinema DVD
DVD release: 27 October 2009   Runtime: 100 minutes
(1 disc)
Format: Color, DVD, NTSC, Subtitled
DVD Features: Aspect ratio 1.66:1, Audio tracks (Dolby Digital 2.0 - French, Spanish), Subtitles (English), Mastered in HD from 35mm archive print, Audio commentary by film scholar Ernesto R. Acevedo-Munoz (author of Bu˝uel and Mexico), Video interviews w/ actor Michael Piccoli and film scholar Victor Fuentes, Booklet featuring essays (Javier Espada, Juan-Luis Bu˝uel, Susan Hayward)

Though perhaps relatively forgotten today, Luis Bunuel is still considered by cinephiles to be one of the most important directors of all time, as well as, along with Fellini, perhaps the greatest surrealist filmmaker. During the 1950s, Bunuel worked in Mexico and made a small number of low-budget Mexican-French productions before returning to Europe in the late 1960s.

Death in the Garden (1956) is, for Bunuel, a relatively mainstream adventure film, perhaps designed at the behest of the film's backers to be somewhat commercial. Still, there are plenty of avant garde, surrealist touches in this film that make it much more than your average B-movie.

The plot: In an unnamed Latin American country, a loner named Shark (Georges Marchal) arrives in a small gold-mining community. The town is in upheaval because the government has seized the local diamond mine and placed it under the rule of a corrupt military captain. Through numerous complicated plot devices, the audience is eventually introduced to the main characters: Shark; Dijn; the town madame (Simone Signoret); Father Lizzardi (Michel Piccoli); old prospector Castin (Charles Varnel); and Castin's deaf and mute daughter (MichŔle Girardon). These six main characters try to run from the turmoil (and the Captain) by way of the Amazon but soon have to abandon ship as their boat cannot outrun the military's vessel. The last half of the film finds the six lost in the Amazon jungle and left to fight for their lives.

There is a sharp divide in both tone and plot for this film. The first half, set in the corrupt town, features numerous characters, is plot-heavy and a relatively fast-paced but standard action film. Only the six main characters are seen for the remainder of the film. In this second half, as the characters struggle to survive and begin to go mad, Bunuel adds some surrealist touches - such as the profound but absolutely hideous shot of ants crawling over a skinned snake, a sudden shot of downtown Paris that quickly dissolves into a photo about to be burned (signifying a lost dream), and the sudden discovery of the aftermath of a plane crash (note: this plane crash is vintage Bunuel, for it not only comes out of the blue but is also somewhat of a critique of the belief in a God -Father Lizzardi thanks God for the miracle of the downed plane, but Shark is quick to add that 50 people had to die for this miracle).

This film is not Bunuel's greatest work (those would likely be Belle du Jour, L'Age D'or or The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, yet it is a very good, interesting film highly recommended for those interested in the director's work. It integrates some touches of the surrealism he is known for and makes some profound statements regarding the brutal practicality of life, yet it also works as an entertaining potboiler.

  • Audio commentary by film scholar Ernesto R. Acevedo-Munoz
  • New video interviews with actor Michael Piccoli and film scholar Victor Fuentes
  • Booklet featuring essays by Javier Espada, Juan-Luis Bu˝uel and Susan Hayward
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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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