The Young One (Luis Buñuel / U.S.-Mexico, 1960):
(La Joven; Island of Shame)

A rabbit is seen in its death throes, but the Renoir remembered by Luis Buñuel is The Southerner, from which he draws Zachary Scott resembling Pedro Armendáriz. The island is gamekeeper Scott's world, he lords over it and over pubescent nymph Key Meersman, who sobs blankly while untying her dead grandfather's boots; Scott's face lights up when he notices the unformed beauty underneath her scraggly hair, and guesses her age by squeezing her thighs, "like a pig's." The intruder is a black hepcat (Bernie Hamilton), who pulls into the island with the lynching mob's cries of rape still ringing in his ears. Meersman squishes a spider and tends to bees, Hamilton bites into the crab crawling at the end of his spear, they become friends -- the prejudice plaguing Scott hasn't yet solidified in the girl, dubbed "an angel of mercy, ya dig." The (cocked) shotgun gag from Susana is repeated and compounded with Hamilton's "licorice stick" clarinet, until Scott curtails his jazzing with a homemade grenade; the two men form a truce, and that night Scott visits Meersman in bed and robs her of her innocence. No other Buñuel picture, not even The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, boasts a more tangible, zestful feel for nature (Gabriel Figueroa's photography is a high-contrast dance of swamp, sand, air, sea), with the faultless handling of Meersman's jailbait gawkiness chief amid countless directorial miracles. Reviewers at the time somehow decided the filmmaker was not up to Stanley Kramer standards, for racism here isn't a matter of ebony saints redeeming pasty demons but an elemental human darkness, linking the white supremacist (Crahan Denton) who tells Hamilton how sorry he is about God "leaving something out of you... your soul" to the padre (Claudio Brook) who flips over his mattress after learning that the black man has slept on it. Scott overcomes his prejudice, yet Buñuel keeps the fable's humanism sharp by perversely connecting it to his lust for the girl, another shattered taboo -- Meersman learns to balance herself on high heels and is sent to absorb society's ways, Scott remains in the wilderness to purge himself from them. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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