Simon of the Desert
|Simon of the Desert|
|Directed by||Luis Buñuel|
|Produced by||Gustavo Alatriste|
|Written by||Julio Alejandro
Enrique Álvarez Félix
|Distributed by||Producciones Alatriste|
|Release date(s)||1965 (Mexico)|
|Running time||42 min.|
Simon of the Desert (Spanish: Simón del desierto) is a 1965 film directed by Luis Buñuel. It is loosely based on the story of the ascetic 5th-century Syrian saint Simeon Stylites, who lived for 39 years on top of a column.
Simon of the Desert is the third (after Viridiana and The Exterminating Angel) of three movies that were directed by Buñuel, starring Silvia Pinal and Claudio Brook and produced by her husband Gustavo Alatriste.
Simón, the son of Simeon Stylites, has lived for 6 years, 6 weeks and 6 days atop an eight-meter pillar in the middle of the desert, praying for spiritual purification. A congregation of priests and peasants salute him and offer him a brand new pillar to stand on and carry on his mission. He comes down the pillar and is offered priesthood, but refuses because he considers himself unworthy, and forsakes his aging mother for the love of God before climbing up his new pillar. He heals an amputee missing both hands, whose first use of them is to slap his child. But the congregation quickly departs unimpressed, leaving Simón alone.
Time goes by and Simón meets a number of regular characters – a handsome priest whom he condemns on grounds of vanity, a dwarf herder and his mother, who comes to live close to him but remains neglected of attention. A woman (Silvia Pinal), Satan, visits him three times: first as an innocent girl chanting curses in Latin, second disguised as Jesus. She constantly tries to make Simón give up his task and climb down the pillar, but he refuses every time. She even possesses one of the priests that visit him, who is consequently exorcised by the priests.
The third time, a coffin trails across the desert and finally stops next to the pillar. It opens up to reveal Satan, clad in a toga, who at last climbs up the pillar and vanishes with Simón for good. In an anachronistic turn, the couple find themselves sitting inside a crowded, jumping 1960s nightclub with a live instrumental rock band on stage. Satan tells Simón that the song the 1960s hipsters are dancing to is called Radioactive Flesh. Simón protests about wanting to go home, but Satan says he cannot.
In 1960 Buñuel returned to his home country Spain after a long-term exile in Mexico in order to direct Viridiana. The film scandalized the Vatican and the government, which prompted Buñuel into a second exile back to Mexico. There he directed The Exterminating Angel in 1962, and in the line of its predecessor, the film was critical of religion. Simón del desierto was the last of the trilogy starring Silvia Pinal and Claudio Brook (the latter usually in secondary roles) that controversially dealt with religion while retaining certain elements of Buñuel’s earlier surrealist period. The film was based on a novel of Buñuel, and was adapted by Buñuel and frequent collaborator Julio Alejandro.
Cultural references 
The video clip for the song The Laws Have Changed from The New Pornographers’ 2003 album Electric Version heavily references the conclusion of the film, with a Simón-like figure lured from his pillar to a nightclub where the song is being played.
- Richard P Krafsur: The American Film Institute catalog of motion pictures produced in the United States: feature films, 1961-1970, page 989.
- Film: A Modern Art, page 245.
The Gospel According to St. Matthew
tied with Hamlet
|Special Jury Prize, Venice
tied with I am Twenty and Modiga Mindre Män
tied with Chappaqua