Cast & Crew
Ignacio López Tarso
In turn-of-the-century Mexico, Father Nazario lives on alms and tries to follow the precepts of Christ, mutely enduring disparagement and mockery for his lack of worldly perspective. The prostitute Andara, having killed another woman in a brawl, takes shelter in his room, and he nurses her back to health. He is stripped of his pastoral duties when church authorities learn that she has shared his room, and he takes to the road to beg his way like Christ among the poor. Seeing a construction crew, he asks to work for food alone and precipitates bloodshed as the workers revolt. Arriving in a village, he is reunited with Andara and with Beatriz, a woman whom he consoled when she attempted suicide over the departure of her brutal and faithless lover, El Pinto. Nazario is dismayed to find himself regarded as a saint but consents to pray for a fevered child, whose condition thereupon improves. The two women now insist upon following him as his disciples. In a plague-stricken village, he is troubled to discover that a dying woman thinks of her lover rather than of God. He chastises his companions for their carnal interest in him. Andara gains the devotion of a lascivious dwarf, and he tags after her. Nazario is arrested with Andara as her accomplice, and Beatriz returns to El Pinto. Savagely beaten in prison, Nazario is saved by a church thief. Ecclesiastical authorities intervene, and Nazario is separated from the group of chained prisoners and given a private guard. Taking pity on the thirsty priest, an old peasant woman offers him a pineapple, and, after hesitating, he gratefully accepts her charity.
Ignacio López Tarso
Luis Aceves Castañeda
Manuel Alvarez Bravo
Manuel Barbachano Ponce
James L. Fields
José De Pérez
Antonio De Salazar
Nazarin tells the story of Father Nazario (Francisco Rabal), a solemn, devout priest living amongst the poor in a turn-of-the-century rural Mexican village. The example he sets for the thieves, prostitutes, and beggars around his slum dwelling goes unappreciated at best; at every turn Nazario is mocked and taken advantage of. He remains gentle, though sanctimonious, in his efforts to live the lessons of Christ. Nazario befriends a suicidal girl, Beatriz (Marga Lopez), and takes in a streetwalker named Andara (Rita Macedo) who is wounded and bleeding after a knife fight in which she killed another prostitute. Church leaders defrock the priest after questioning him about the women, so he heads out on a pilgrimage to the countryside. The women follow as would-be disciples (or is it lovers?), and in his travels, Father Nazario continually finds that the pure Christianity he presents to his fellow man is both ineffectual and annoying.
In the book-length interview Objects of Desire: Conversations with Luis Bunuel, the director explained that he had long wanted to adapt the Benito Perez Galdos novel Nazarin to the screen, and that an earlier attempt with producer Pancho Cabrera had fallen through. Nazarin was a later work by the celebrated Spanish novelist and, Bunuel felt, not one of his best. He said, "When I film a novel, I feel freer if it's not a masterpiece because I don't feel inhibited about changing it and putting in anything I want." Bunuel's changes to the story made for a challenging and moving film which condemns hypocrisy, presents the virtues of humanism, and questions the practicality of strict religious moral codes in a modern world.
Nazarin contains only a few of the Surrealistic touches for which Bunuel is known. Aside from the dwarf Ujo (Jesus Fernandez), there are the fevered waking dreams of Beatriz (in one she imagines that she violently bites the lip of her abusive lover Pinto [Noe Murayama]), and a scene in which the wounded and delirious Andara sees the portrait of Christ hanging in Nazario's room as a crazed, laughing Jesus. In this more subtle examination of themes that Bunuel would revisit many times in later films, one can also see an interesting stylistic choice: several scenes have a basic comedic structure, though they are not played, of course, for laughs. For example, when Father Nazario seeks work with a construction crew, he unwittingly creates a labor dispute. He has just briefly stepped out of frame when the crewmen assault their foreman. After a cut to Nazario further down the road, we see him hesitate after gunshots ring out. In a comedy, this would play as a comedic "take", but here Bunuel uses the same structure to play up the tragedy of Nazario's naive and narrow view of the world.
Modern viewers have the advantage of comparing Nazarin to Bunuel's subsequent films, which clarify the director's intentions, but the film appeared much more ambiguous at the time of its release. The ending (in which Father Nazario first rejects, then accepts, a simple charitable offering from a stranger) was especially open to interpretation. Bunuel finds Father Nazario to be quixotic but sympathetic. As the director said, "I don't try to show that Nazarin has regained his faith in either religion or mankind, or that he has completely lost his faith. What I can tell you is that Nazarin's attitude intrigues me... What will happen to this man after so many experiences? I don't know." The clearest indication of the film's ambiguity is the fact that it came very close to being awarded by the Office Catholique International du Cinema at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival. It did, in fact, go on to win the Grand Prix International Award.
Bunuel's stance on organized religion would not remain uncertain for long. Upon his return to Spain in the early 1960s, he made the highly controversial film Viridiana (1961), an unequivocal critique of Catholicism. It marked a new stridency that would be present in most of the great Surrealist's post-Mexican films. Yet through his later career, Bunuel remained sympathetic to Father Nazario as indicated by these prescient comments made during the mid-1970s interviews for Objects of Desire: "Look at how violence is publicized. The excess of information is like a plague. Today, terrorists are more famous than movie stars. In our century, we thought we would finish with dictatorships, but one ends and two more pop up...I no longer believe in social progress. I can only believe in a few exceptional individuals of good faith like Nazarin, even though they fail."
Producer: Federico Amerigo, Manuel Barbachano Ponce
Director: Luis Bunuel
Screenplay: Julio Alejandro, Luis Bunuel, Emilio Carballido
Based on the novel by: Benito Perez Galdos
Cinematography: Gabriel Figueroa
Film Editing: Carlos Savage
Art Direction: Edward Fitzgerald
Music: Rodolfo Halffter
Costume Design: Georgette Somohano
Cast: Francisco Rabal (Father Nazario), Marga Lopez (Beatriz), Rita Macedo (Andara), Jesus Fernandez (Ujo), Ignacio Lopez Tarso (Thief), Ofelia Guilmain (Chanfa), Luis Aceves Castaneda (Parricide), Noe Murayama (Pinto), Rosenda Monteros (Prieta).
by John M. Miller
Released in Mexico in June 1959 as Nazarín; running time: 94 min. Released by Azteca Films in 1962, by Altura Films International in 1968. Music is credited by a Mexican source only. Soundtrack includes Holy Week songs from Calanda (Spain).
Released in United States June 4, 1959
Released in United States December 19, 1990
Shown at Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA December 19, 1990.
Released in United States Summer June 1959
Released in United States December 19, 1990 (Shown at Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA December 19, 1990.)
Released in United States June 4, 1959 (Premiered in Mexico June 4, 1959.)
Released in United States Summer June 1959