Watch Luis Buñuel’s Surreal Travel Documentary A Land Without Bread (1933)

You don’t get the warm fuzzies from a Luis Buñuel movie. The most famous moment from his first film — Un Chien andalou, co-direct­ed with Sal­vador Dalí — is a woman get­ting her eye slashed with a straight razor. While on clos­er inspec­tion the gut­ted eye is from a dead don­key, the image still has the pow­er to shock 85 years lat­er. Though the movie was a col­lab­o­ra­tion, you can dis­cern Buñuel’s vision in this ear­ly work — shots of ants com­ing out of bod­i­ly ori­fices is pure Dalí; the caus­tic satire against the cler­gy is pure Buñuel. Dalí’s images are strange and beau­ti­ful. Buñuel’s are sub­ver­sive.

Though Dalí and Buñuel worked togeth­er again on the scorch­ing­ly anti-Catholic L’Age d’or, their col­lab­o­ra­tion fell apart in pre-pro­duc­tion. Dalí just want­ed to tweak those in pow­er. Buñuel, a com­mit­ted left­ist, want­ed to under­mine the whole bour­geoisie.

Land With­out Bread (Las Hur­des: Tier­ra Sin Pan) is Buñuel’s first movie with­out Dalí. Though lack­ing many of the overt sur­re­al­ist flour­ish­es of his ear­li­er movies – no ocu­lar muti­la­tion here – this 1933 film is much more unset­tling. Osten­si­bly a doc­u­men­tary about the Las Hur­des region locat­ed in a remote cor­ner of Spain, the film is in fact a lac­er­at­ing par­o­dy of trav­el doc­u­men­taries. Nov­el­ist Gra­ham Greene, in a review of the movie for Night and Day mag­a­zine, called it “an hon­est and hideous pic­ture.” You can watch it above.

Las Hur­des is poor but not as com­i­cal­ly awful as Buñuel depicts it. He paints the pic­ture of unleav­ened wretched­ness. Dis­ease, depri­va­tion and grind­ing despair are in just about every frame of the movie. And if the images weren’t mis­er­able enough, Buñuel had no prob­lem with cre­at­ing a lit­tle of his own mis­ery. In one noto­ri­ous scene, a don­key is stung to death by a swarm of angry bees. Buñuel accom­plished this by hav­ing the doomed beast slathered with hon­ey and placed next to a cou­ple of downed hives. Anoth­er scene sought to illus­trate that the moun­tain pass­es in Las Hur­des were treach­er­ous by show­ing a moun­tain goat tum­bling off a crag­gy slope to cer­tain death. Only the goat wasn’t clum­sy, it was wound­ed. If you look close­ly at the low­er right of the frame in that scene, you can see a puff of smoke from a crewmember’s gun. Buñuel, obvi­ous­ly, was not a mem­ber of PETA.

He jux­ta­pos­es these grim images with a monot­o­ne voice over that heaps dis­dain and con­de­scen­sion onto its sub­ject. Yet the nar­ra­tion is so height­ened, so pre­pos­ter­ous, so cru­el that you find your­self ques­tion­ing its verac­i­ty. Below is a par­tic­u­lar­ly infa­mous pas­sage of the movie’s nar­ra­tion.

Dwarfs and morons are very com­mon in the upper Hur­danos moun­tains. Their fam­i­lies employ them as goat herders if they’re not too dan­ger­ous. The ter­ri­ble impov­er­ish­ment of this race is due to the lack of hygiene, under nour­ish­ment and con­stant inter­mar­riage. The small­est one of these crea­tures is 28 years old. Words can­not express the hor­ror of their mirth­less grins as they play a sort of hide and go seek.

All this places the view­er into a very uncom­fort­able posi­tion. Buñuel’s por­tray­al of the locals makes them seem so alien that empa­thy is all but impos­si­ble. All that you are left with is, aside from revul­sion, an abstract­ed form of pity. It’s not all that dif­fer­ent from the Oh Dearism you get from watch­ing a news report on a par­tic­u­lar­ly blight­ed cor­ner of the Third World. The dif­fer­ence is that Buñuel, unlike the news, makes you acute­ly, uncom­fort­ably aware of your priv­i­leged posi­tion in rela­tion to the movie’s sub­ject.

Land With­out Bread will be added to our col­lec­tion 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Two Vin­tage Films by Sal­vador Dalí and Luis Buñuel: Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or

The Seashell and the Cler­gy­man: The World’s First Sur­re­al­ist Film

Read Film­mak­er Luis Buñuel’s Recipe for the Per­fect Dry Mar­ti­ni, and Then See Him Make One

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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Comments (6)
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  • Terence says:

    It’s sort of an old sto­ry among pro­pa­gan­dists.

    “We have to show how hor­ri­ble it should be, even though the real­i­ty is much different…for ‘the cause’ (what­ev­er that might be).

  • Bill Kerr says:

    The video has stopped work­ing!

  • Amy Barker says:

    Hi there. Yes, I’m hav­ing trou­ble view­ing that video as well. Could it be because I“m out­side of the US? Love the web­site, thank you for shar­ing all of this great con­tent.

  • Slavescu Marian says:

    Pro­pa­gan­da from twist­ed mind­ed left­ist intel­lec­tu­als of that time. Bunuel nev­er expe­ri­enced the hap­pi­ness of liv­ing in com­mu­nism s I did. After becom­ing famous, the moral­ist Dali used to sign plain pieces of white paper and sell them for large amounts to his col­leagues who in turn after draw­ing some­thing sold them for good mon­ey. We can­not deny the real­i­ty of the pre­sent­ed facts but there were hard times for every­body and few peo­ple lived good lives. Fact is that we as human beings could have shown more kind­ness and com­pas­sion to our poor fel­lows. To put the blame on the pri­vate prop­er­ty is the most nas­ti­est and sil­ly com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da. By the way, do Bunuel live like a poor man ? I don’t think so, and prob­a­bly nobody is blam­ing him for being reach and hav­ing a decent life.

  • RobotBoy76 says:

    Buñuel was no more of a fan of Stal­in­ism than you are.

  • RobotBoy76 says:

    Land with­out Bread is a com­ic film. Dark com­e­dy, yes, but when you grasp the nature of his satire, the film becomes extreme­ly fun­ny.

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