Luis Bunuel's most earnest, least sardonic film, the 1955 SUNRISE (CELA S'APPELLE L'AURORE), made its much belated US debut in 1997. Though the story of a married doctor who falls for a beautiful young widow is skillfully told, this effort is a major disappointment for those expecting a
lost Bunuel masterwork.
An impoverished Mediterranean island is ruled by an industrial boss named Gorzone (Jean-Jacques Delbo). While Gorzone regularly exploits and overworks his farmers and servants, Valerio (Georges Marchal), a dedicated young doctor very unlike Gorzone, tends to the sick and needy. Valerio's wife,
Angela (Nelly Borgeaud), an upper-class woman who cannot understand why her husband won't move his practice to Nice, takes off one day for an extended trip to the mainland to visit her father. During his wife's holiday, Valerio treats a girl who has been molested on a farm and, in the middle of
his house call, falls for a visiting guest, a widow named Clara (Lucia Bose).
As Valerio and Clara slowly begin an illicit affair, Valerio also becomes involved in a political tangle. Valerio becomes supportive of one of Gorzone's farmers, a man named Sandro (Gianni Esposito), after treating his tubercular wife. When the woman dies, Sandro blames their harsh living
conditions for hastening her death. In response, Gorzone dismisses Sandro for his bad attitude, so Sandro later disrupts one of Gorzone's dinner parties and shoots his ex-boss. Tracked down by the right-wing police chief (Julien Bertheau), Sandro takes refuge in Valerio's house. When Angela
returns home and finds Sandro hiding there, she leaves Valerio--not for his affair, but for refusing to turn in Sandro. Later, Sandro flees, and shoots himself to avoid arrest. In the end, Valerio joins Clara and three of Sandro's friends in a walk of solidarity along the beach.
SUNRISE, the American title of this "lost" Bunuel work, has nothing to do with F.W. Murnau's 1927 masterpiece of the same name--even though it, too, has a love triangle plot. Regrettably, SUNRISE has little to do with most other Bunuel films, either. Made directly after the director's
now-celebrated Mexican period (which includes LOS OLVIDADOS, ILLUSION TRAVELS BY STREETCAR, and THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ), and just before the still underrated DEATH IN THE GARDEN (1956), SUNRISE represents the iconoclastic auteur's most sincere attempt to tell a story with a
minimum of surreal flourish and a maximum of leftist sentiment. Indeed, the final shot of the characters walking arm-in-arm could have come from one of Jean Renoir's late '30s Popular Front films. Both the romantic plot and the class-struggle subplot are treated reverently, at least by Bunuel's
standard (which is nearly always irreverent elsewhere). That reverence might have been appropriate had Jean Genet scripted the film as initially planned, but the screenplay by Bunuel and Jean Ferry is not very inspired, like a bland mix of A.J. Cronin's The Citadel and Dostoyevsky's Crime andPunishment. Surprisingly, Bunuel once claimed SUNRISE was one of his personal favorites.
Still, there are compensations. SUNRISE is meticulously well photographed by Robert Le Febvre (on the island of Corsica) and, consequently, looks more professionally crafted than most of Bunuel's low-budget Mexican efforts (Bunuel was surrounded by his highest caliber of production personnel in
years). Here and there, too, the dark, funny side of the director comes through, such as in the dinner party scene where only a servant runs to the aid of the dying tyrant Gorzone, while his wife and the guests merely stand around and gawk. Still, Bunuel followers should not expect too much from
this belated import. SUNRISE is not on the order of L'AGE D'OR (1930) or PHANTOM OF LIBERTY (1974). (Violence, sexual situations.)
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Luis Bunuel's most earnest, least sardonic film, the 1955 SUNRISE (CELA S'APPELLE L'AURORE), made its much belated US debut in 1997. Though the story of a married doctor who falls for a beautiful young widow is skillfully told, this effort is a major disap… (more)