Illusion Travels by Streetcar (Luis Buñuel / Mexico, 1954):
(La Ilusión Viaja en Tranvía)

To Lang in Human Desire, the train remains as locked to its rails as people remain to the pitiless determinism of fate; that same year, Luis Buñuel had his own vehicle jump schedule and venture into the night. Indeed, human desire is what moves the two main blokes, transit workers Carlos Navarro and Fernando Soto, whose faithful pal, a beat-up streetcar, is scheduled for dismantling the following day. "Bueno... Y Qué?" asks a billboard, so Navarro and Soto, fueled by frustration and beer, kidnap it and take it out for one last spin through the streets of Mexico City. Like the title vehicle in Mexican Bus Ride, Buñuel's crowd-pleasing companion piece, the car briskly turns community-on-wheels, crammed with human bustle -- suspicious nuns, gossipy matrons, and slaughterhouse workers, carcasses swinging from the hand-bars above a top-hatted tipsy bourgeois. Morning comes, then freedom dissipates: economic realities prevail as the guys scramble to ride back to the depot before the farewell joyride costs them their jobs. Airily shot in various mock-neorealist locales, the movie is more than passingly politicized in its wistful populism: the exploitation of the masses is explicitly evoked, maize gets smuggled in fertilizer sacks, and, most daringly, passengers prove too programmed to follow society's rules to consider breaking them. ("Smells like communism," snaps a gringa when told the tickets are free.) Buñuel traffics in two-sided myopia by depicting both the system that refuses to question the fallibility of its mechanisms (just as a family is to refuse to see the missing daughter right beneath their noses in Phantom of the Liberty) and the individual (Agustín Isunza) who insists on serving it long after it has discarded him. Elsewhere, Adam and Eve are played in swimsuits at a pantomimed Nativity pageant while romance flowers aboard the stalled car, Navarro adjusting Lilia Prado's skirt so her stockings won't show -- one of the city's many stories, according to the narrator, yet Buñuel asks, as did Renoir: Are these people going too far, or not nearly far enough? With Miguel Manzano, and Guillermo Bravo Sosa. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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