L’Âge d’Or (1930)
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Produced by Vicomte Charles de Noailles & Marie-Laure de Noailles
Written by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali
Starring: Gaston Modot, Lya Lys
Country: France | Run Time: 63 min
By Colin Hart
L’Age d’Or does not follow any story in particular. This virtually plotless film uses surrealist logic to work its way from vignette to vignette, exploring themes of bourgeois values and sexual liberation/frustration. Non-sequiturs are the order of the day, and director Luis Buñuel comes across as a merry prankster throughout.
This is a very funny film. Back when it was originally released in 1930, The Age of Gold caused riots and was condemned by the government. Its unholy procession of images was deemed sacrilegious. Flash-forward nearly ninety years and it is a comedic masterpiece far ahead of its time.
Much of Buñuel’s surrealism is rooted in comedy or satire. In this way, he shares a similar mindset with fellow surrealists Max Ernst and Salvador Dali. People who watch The Age of Gold looking for a sublime dreamlike experience will find themselves disappointed. This film is solely concerned with pushing buttons, and it does so in a Pythonesque manner before “Pythonesque” was even a thing.
A short list of some of the funniest moments in L’Age d’Or:
- Nonsensical dialogue (“Yes, but you have accordions.”)
- Men staggering up a mountain and falling flat on their faces.
- A title card that reads “Sometimes, on Sundays” followed by shots of random buildings collapsing.
- A man kicking a puppy.
- A man squashing a beetle.
- Suggestive shots of two fingers rubbing various objects.
- A cow in a woman’s bed.
- A man shooting a little boy.
- The same man shooting the little boy again, just to make sure.
- A man slapping an old woman across the face.
- A girl fellating the toe of a religious statue.
Once again, Buñuel and Salvador Dali (who co-wrote the film) find a unique blend of provocative imagery and limitless subtext. Un Chien Andalou was a strong, memorable dosage of surrealism in a short, 16-minute runtime. L’Age d’Or is an hour long, and therefore doesn’t carry Un Chien Andalou’s sustained intensity, but Buñuel and Dali always find ways to keep it interesting.
Beginning with a short documentary about scorpions, the film then flows freely, loosely following two libertine lovers’ plight to consummate their strong, strong, strong feelings for one another. Their attempts to have sex are continuously thwarted, foreshadowing the cruel tricks Buñuel will play on his characters in The Exterminating Angel (1962), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), The Phantom of Liberty (1974) and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977).
Along the way are several unrelated vignettes that only add to the psychosexual fervor. The film ends with a final episode that references the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom. The final shot is of a wooden cross decorated with women’s scalps, blowing in the wind. The music—whether it is trancelike drumming or classics by Wagner, Schubert and Debussy—greatly enhances the film’s overall effect.
I’ll be honest: I’m a sucker for surrealism, and Luis Buñuel is one of my absolute favorites. Salvador Dali, too (along with Frida Kahlo, the best painter of the 1930s). The Age of Gold is the pair’s crowning achievement.
What keeps me coming back, though, is the humor—so sharp and advanced for its time. This is a legitimately funny film, a great comedy more than anything. 87 years since its release, and we are still finding new things to laugh at. A real avant-garde rarity.