April 16, 2020


(Luis Buñuel, 1955)

preceded by

Jean-Luc Godard, 1996



NARSÈS:  What is it called when the sun rises, like today, and everything has been ransacked, everything is devastated, but you can still breathe the air, and everything is lost, the city is burning, and innocent people are killing each other, but the guilty are in their death throes in some corner of the daybreak? 
ELECTRE:  Ask the beggar, he knows. 
BEGGAR:  It has a very beautiful name, Narsès. Cela s'appelle l'aurore. It's called the dawn.





1996. Jean-Luc Godard - Le Cercle de Minuit. 1 minute.
Broadcast on Antenne 2, November 26, 1996.

Not a exactly a short film but certainly a work, this one-minute video was one of four cinema gammes—"scales" in the musical sense (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si)—presented on live television by Jean-Luc Godard in 1996. 

On the occasion of the release of his war film For Ever Mozart (1996) Godard was invited by Laure Adler, host of Le Cercle de Minuit, to take part in a roundtable with writer Philippe Sollers, the two philosophers Jean-François Lyotard and Alain Finkielkraut, and film critic and filmmaker Jean-Claude Biette. 

Godard chose to present his colleagues with these sequences, asking why we typically don't "do our scales" in cinema, like pianists, dancers, singers, or as athletes, for practice and for pleasure, every morning? "Here's an example of a cinema scale... It's from a photo that I saw in a Swiss-Romande daily newspaper, a photo that made me think... and there it is, my scales for the day, my day's work... "

I only came to know of the existence of Le Monde comme il ne va pas (What's Wrong with the World)which is verbally presented by Adler on the show as "Photo / petite fille / Algérie / muet" (Photo / little girl / Algeria / silent)through a short text about it on the Shangols blog, who writes that Godard "utilizes the last tools of the cinema as if they were found existing in the Bronze Age: a simple zoom, a clear-cut look at an image, a text, enough to express both the infancy of cinema and a tainted childhood in a country at war."

As this montage was executed on live television, it's excluded from most Godard filmographies, though I've subsequently found it in the more detailed and reliable of them, for instance in Michael Witt's Jean-Luc Godard, Cinema Historian (2013). 

The words that we hear in the montage were written by G.K. Chesterton, whose original 1910 text can be found here. Lengthy excerpts of the Cercle de Minuit program, including further gammes and discussion in French, are introduced and preserved here, thanks to the efforts of Albert Gauvin (grâce à Dmitry Golotyuk).

Not incidentally, the caption under the newspaper image that is part of Godard's montage, and against which he works, reads: "Amnesty International writes: 'The majority of victims have neither name nor face.'"


France-Italy. 1955. 98 minutes. 
Production: Les Films Marceau, Laetitia Films. 
 Director: Luis Buñuel. Screenplay: Luis Buñuel, Jean Ferry. 
 Based on the novel Cela s'appelle l'aurore by Emmanuel Roblès.
Cinematography: Robert Lefebvre. Editor: Marguerite Renoir, Luis Buñuel. Music: Joseph Kosma. Sound: Antoine Petitjean. Art Direction: Max Douy. Assistants: Marcel Camus, Jacques Deray. Prod. Manager: Claude Jaeger. With: Georges Marchal (Dr. Valerio), Lucia Bosè (Clara), Gianni Esposito (Sandro), Julien Bertheau (Police Commissioner Fasaro), Nelly Borgeaud (Angela), Jean-Jacques Delbo (Gorzone), Robert Levfort (Pietro), Brigitte Elloy (Magda), Henri Nassiet (Angela's father), Gaston Modot (peasant Giuseppe), Simone Paris (Madame Gorzone), Pascale Mazotti (Azzopardi), Marcel Peres.

Doctor Valerio works for an industrial concern on a Mediterranean island and devotes himself to helping the workers and poor farmers. Valerio's wife, Angela, suffers from nerves and boredom. While in a tenement to treat a child who has been molested, Valerio meets Clara, they fall in love and begin an affair. Valerio's worker friend Sandro takes revenge on his heartless boss, Gorzone, who is responsible for Sandro's wife's death during their eviction. Valerio hides Sandro from the police at his home at the very moment that his father-in-law arrives to offer him lucrative work in Nice. The doctor must take sides.


"The film is a remarkable adaptation by Buñuel of a fine novel by Emmauel Roblès, who took the title from the last line of Jean Giraudoux's play Electre:

NARSÈS:  What is it called when the sun rises, like today, and everything has been ransacked, everything is devastated, but you can still breathe the air, and everything is lost, the city is burning, and innocent people are killing each other, but the guilty are in their death throes in some corner of the daybreak?  

ELECTRE:  Ask the beggar, he knows.  

BEGGAR:  It has a very beautiful name, Narsès. It's called the dawn. 

"Through the mouthpiece of Doctor Valerio and this film, Buñuel once again advocates subversion and makes statements that are very rarely to be heard in the cinema, and almost never in the French cinema. He says that in Western contemporary society the honor of the individual no longer coincides with the duties of the citizen, that the moral system is just as cankered as the social system, that the police are the concrete manifestation of this whole system, and that under no circumstances should one come to terms with the institutions that control this society from top to bottom. In other words, one should totally reject all taboos and all laws, and feel at all times and in all circumstance in a state of insurrection. One's self-respect, therefore, requires one to give refuge in one's home to the worker who has just murdered his boss, and never to shake hands with a policeman."

Freddy Buache
The Cinema of Luis Buñuel. 1970 


"I will let Friedrich Engels speak for me. He defines the function of the novelist (and here read filmmaker) thus: 'The novelist will have acquitted himself honorably of his task when, by means of an accurate portrait of authentic social relations, he will have destroyed the conventional view of the nature of those relations, shattered the optimism of the bourgeois world, and forced the reader to question the permanency of the prevailing order, and this even if the author does not offer us any solutions, even if he does not clearly take sides.'"

Luis Buñuel, 1953.

Cela s'appelle l'auroreThe Light of Buñuel 
by André Bazin

Luis Buñuel's reputation comes from the time when his films served as a banner for cinematic surrealism. There is scarcely a trace of this in Cela s'appelle l'aurore (It's Called the Dawn, 1955)

Buñuel's work and inspiration are partly misunderstood. Films like L'Age d'or and Un Chien andalou are indeed provocative, epic, and violent. They denounce social and moral lies, and are at times intolerably cruel. But it would be wrong to deduce from this that Buñuel seeks out scandal and violence for their own sake. The cruelty in Los Olvidados is merely the necessary counter-balance of an overwhelming tenderness, an unsatisfied yearning for kindness, justice, and purity in this world. For Buñuel, the dream and everything it reveals about inner reality is a pathway to the truth. To the casual viewer, some of Buñuel's work might seem filled with a gratuitous strangeness and bizarre incongruities. 

But just as his "cruelty" is the projected shadow of his tenderness, Buñuel's oddities, if I may say so, are simply the manifestation of his simplicty. The universe of which he dreams is one of social justice, kindness, and true love -- an almost naive universe of moral simplicity. Naive yet dizzying!

This is why Cela s'appelle l'aurore is truly a Buñuelian film, even though such a melodramatic story, with its strongly sympathetic or antipathetic characters might seem to be naively paradoxical. A closer look shows us otherwise. This transparency is as sharp as crystal, and one of its shards might slit your wrists. 

A young doctor, living on a desolate island in the Mediterranean, earns very little from his work yet remains to help those around him. His wife, slightly ill but mainly bored by her mediocre existence, goes to Nice to recuperate. Her parents would like to see their son-in-law set up practice on the Continent. While attending to a young girl who has been raped, the doctor meets a young Italian widow and violent passion soon envelops them. 

Later, at great personal risk, the doctor is called upon to harbor a young man who as killed the reigning industrial boss of the town. The greediness and lack of compassion of the latter have led to the death of the young man's ailing wife. Wishing to spare the doctor an accusation of complicity, the unfortunate boy leaves his refuge and is killed. 

In the end, the doctor divorces his wife, thereby renoucing the advantages of a career in the city and choosing truth, love, and the friendship of those who need him. Cela s'appelle l'aurore is, as I said, a strange film because of its simplicity, dazzling because of its clarity and a film which cleanses the soul and heart. It is admirably interpreted by Lucia Bosè, Georges Marchal, and in particular Julien Bertheau and Esposito. 

Le parisien libéré 3631. May 14, 1956

Translated by Sandrine D'Estrée and Tiffany Fliss


 L.B. shooting CELA S'APPELLE L'AURORE in Corsica, August 1955.


TOMAS PEREZ TURRENT: You once mentioned that Cela s'appelle l'aurore is one of your favorite films.

LUIS BUÑUEL: It's a "love-yes-police-no" film and I have good memories of it. My agent in Paris had recommended Emmanuel Roblès' novel, and that year, 1954, I was on the jury at the Cannes Film Festival. I liked the book and began to work on the script with Jean Ferry, a Surrealist writer and author of a study of Raymond Roussel.

TURRENT: Ferry was also one of the founders of the College of Pataphysics. [College de Pataphysique, founded in 1949 by a group of French writers to explore the new 'science' proposed in the writings of Alfred Jarry. As defined by Jarry: 'Pataphysics is the sciene of imaginary solutions'.]

BUÑUEL: Yes, he was a pataphysician. And a curious thing happened to me with him. He wrote a three-page love scene, with kisses and very lyrical phrases. I would have been embarrassed to film something like that. 


Then it came to me to have the protagonist arrive at his lover's house, they speak tenderly, and, since he is tired, he takes off his shoes. While she serves him some soup, he says, "Look in my pocket. I brought you a present." She finds a live turtle in his pocket. Then the man and the woman kiss. And this way I avoided three pages of dialogue that might have been good on paper, but were impossible to film. Ferry wrote to the producer, demanding that his name be removed from the credits because I had converted a sublime scene into another one about shoes, soup, and trivialities. Poor Ferry, he has since died. He had talent, but on that occasion it failed him. 

JOSÉ DE LA COLINA: We know there was a problem related to Paul Claudel. 

BUÑUEL: A scene opens in the office of the police commissioner. On his desk you can see the complete works of Claudel with a portrait of him, and a pair of menottes (handcuffs) on top of them. Later, the commissioner takes his gloves from the chest over which hangs a print of Christ by Dalí. That is to say that Dalí and Claudel were poet and painter of the police, through both are excellent, of course.

TURRENT: But at the same time the commissioner was defined as a cultured man, sensitive...

BUÑUEL: He could be. Well, then Claudel's daughter wrote to me more or less in these words: "Monsieur, I have seen the ignoble film where you profane my father's memory. I can do nothing against you legally, but this letter serves to express my contempt." There was also a scene in the film where the police commissioner, while traveling in a car on the island's highway, refers to the landscape and recites some of Claudel's verses. Julien Bertheau, who played the role of the police commissioner, told me, "Bunuel, I prefer not to recite these lines. I acted in L'Annonciation à Marie, and am a friend of Claudel's daughter, and it seems to me you are ridiculing him." "But do you think this scene is going to be grotesque?" I asked him. "No. Recite the verses seriously, without ridicule; you are reciting a good poet."

TURRENT: The ridicule would be in the context. And most people know that Claudel was a bête noir of the Surrealists.

BUÑUEL: The Surrealist group attacked Claudel for his nationalism, his praise of the police and later of Franco. But I insist that for me he is a good poet...

TURRENT: And the Claudel-Dalí association?

BUÑUEL: Dalí is also a nationalist and a Catholic, in his own way, and supportive of Fascist regimes. The police commissioner could have ideas similar to theirs and enjoy their works. Where is the ridicule in that? For example, as you know, I have a Dalí portrait here in the house, a portrait of me that he painted. Does this perhaps mean that I share Dalí's current ideas? On the other hand, the police commissioner has some good characteristics: he reprimands the policemen when they go too far in an act of repression. There is the scene where he crushes the hand of the old man because the old man has raped a young girl. You can understand this indignation, though, of course, the old man is defenseless.

TURRENT: There were many attacks on the film, particularly one by Eric Rohmer. [SEE BELOW - A.R.]

BUÑUEL: I called Rohmer a fascist, although not because of that. One day the editor of Cahiers du cinéma introduced me to him. I remembered that Kyrou and Prévert had called Rohmer a fascist and, as a joke, I said to him, "I have the honor of greeting a fascist." Immediately, I added, "Excuse me, I have been told that you are a fascist." He became red as a beet and I took my leave: "Well, then delighted to have met you."

TURRENT: I remember Rohmer's criticism. He said that you felt obliged to break down doors that had already been opened long before and that you had a petite place in the history of cinema as a collaborator with Dalí on L'Age d'or, and also as a representative of Mexican cinema. And he concluded: "Nothing much."

BUÑUEL: Well, it was amusing.

TURRENT: Some critics said that you had attained serenity in Cela s'appelle l'aurore. But the film stirred up violent reactions for being very clear in its position.

BUÑUEL: I like the final scene when Marchal refuses to shake hands with the police commissioner and leaves with his lover and three worker friends, his arm over their shoulders., with an accordion heard in the background. That is the only music in the film. I acknowledge that the scene is a bit symbolic. 

TURRENT: Unlike your other characters, Marchal is a very definite character, very simple. 

BUÑUEL: But not at the beginning. At first, we see him working as a police doctor. His experiences while living on the island, seeing injustice close-up, make him change. When he hides the fugitive worker at the beginning, he does it only out of generosity and friendship, even against the wishes of his wife and father-in-law. Besides, he has already fallen in love with Bosè. But up to that point, he is only a man with good intentions, compassionate, in love. When they kill Gianni (Sandro), who became a killer out of desperation, a wider feeling of human solidarity begins to stir within the doctor. 

TURRENT: But isn't it possible that after this reaction the doctor could return to a solidarity with his own class?

BUÑUEL: Impossible. I believe a man who is capable of profound indignation at injustice can no longer accept it. For me, it is clear that, at Gianni's (Sandro's) death, Marchal (Valerio) has radically changed. At least he no longer works with the police. Nazarín and Viridiana also change their way of seeing and living in the world. They can no longer remain as they were before. I'm not a determinist; I mean that I don't believe anyone is morally determined forever because he was born in such-and-such a social class. Being born bourgeois doesn't condemn anyone to think or behave like a bourgeois for his entire life. Coexistence changes one's manner of being. Let's take an extreme case: a guard and a prisoner. It's very difficult for a guard to maintain an intransigent position toward his prisoner day after day. He has to be incredibly vile not to establish some type of human relationship with him. But...there are no rules, isn't that right? Forced coexistence can also degrade human relations. If you and I were forcibly locked up forever in a room together, we might be very wonderful people, trying to help each other, but we would almost certainly end up hating each other, losing our tempers over the slightest thing. To you, the way I scratch my ear would seem unbearable; to me, the way you comb your hair. 

COLINA: That is part of the theme of The Exterminating Angel.

BUÑUEL: Yes. But coexistence can have the opposite result: the sense of solidarity. The doctor in Cela s'appelle l'aurore coexists emotionally, though not physically, with the poor people on the island; and furthermore, love makes him more generous. For that reason he breaks with convention: he leaves his wife, sick as she is, and he goes off with his lover. It would be unbearable for him to live any form of deceit.

TURRENT: So what interests you most about a character is his potential for change?

BUÑUEL: Of course. If not, what interest would a story have? A story has to do with seeing whether a character becomes better or worse, happy or miserable... Zachary Scott's character in The Young One changes for the better: he stops being a racist, he really falls in love with the girl, he's no longer a brutal rapist and selfish person. But on the other hand, Tristana becomes vindictive and tyrannical, she becomes hardened. Only in cheap novels are good characters always good and bad ones always bad. They don't learn anything, life doesn't change them. Look at an example of change in the character of Gianni Esposito: he is unhappy through most of the film, incapable of rebelling against the injustice that overwhelms him. He's like an automaton of misfortune, isn't he? Suddenly, he can no longer take it, he picks up a revolver, goes to find the boss, and shoots him in the belly. 

COLINA: The crime scene is splendid because it's like a moment in L'Age d'or, but stronger, because it is more justified. And you forget the kitten...

BUÑUEL: That's right, I forgot. What a memory you two have for details. 

COLINA: It's more than a detail, it has a beauty, mystery. Esposito arrives at the mansion where the party is taking place. A kitten follows him in the garden and Esposito picks it up, pets it, and carries it in his arms. He enters the drawing room and without throwing down the kitten, he takes out his revolver and shoots the boss. A brilliant poetic conjunction, great tenderness and at the same time a great and justified hate. 

BUÑUEL: They are gestures that I would make in a similar situation. And I am interested in a situation that allows two simultaneous contrary actions: to kiss and insult at the same time, to caress and kill at the same time, or the opposite. I'm not interested in characters without contradictions because we know everything about them from the first moment. 

COLINA: That is what happens to me with the character of Marchal, despite the fact that you say he is capable of change. This character doesn't surprise me, he seems too linear. I find the entire film like that, except for the crime scene in the drawing room, the "bit with the kitten." Understand, Don Luis, the film doesn't displease me in any ideological way, I simply find it predictable, flat.

BUÑUEL: I understand. It's not enough for me either that a film share my ideas in order for me to like it or for it to touch me. 

TURRENT: In addition to the scene with the handcuffs and Claudel's book, there is another, even stronger image in the film: a statue of Christ that is used as a telegraph pole. 

BUÑUEL: Many people have said, "A Buñuelian detail." Okay, but I'm sorry, sometimes reality inserts its own Buñuelian touches all by itself. When the Americans invaded Africa during the Second World War, they found a monument of Christ and used it to string needed telephone cables. And since the doctor had been in Africa, he has this photograph in his home: Jesus' face hung full of insulators and cables. This is not an invention of mine, nor was the shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe at the Rastro slaughterhouse in The Brute.

Buñuel: Prohibido asomarse al interior 
by Tomás Pérez Turrent and José de la Colina. 1986.
Translated by Paul Lenti in Objects of Desire. 1992.


"All that remains of Breton's myth of amour fou is something which could be found in a women's magazine serial; the aggressivity of the Twenties has become the cockiness of boarding-school inmates out on a spree. It is enough to turn anyone into a religious bigot, a policeman and a Fascist before you could say Jack Robinson! The film is just one cliché after another, a huge ado about nothing. I hope that Buñuel has not said his last word. For the time being anyway, he only occupies a small niche in the history of cinema, as Dalí's collaborator on Un chien Andalou and L'Age d'or and as Mexico's virtually only director: all in all, a pretty small niche."

"Only a crystal, by analogy, could give one an idea of this film and the faceted montage given to it by (editor) Marguerite Renoir. Only this film, like a crystal, could gather in a single ray the infinite range of light that was put into it by all horizons...

"It is to surrealism that Buñuel owes the idea of the 'earthly salvation of women, of the transcendent vocation of women' (Breton) which dominates his entire work. Clara, to whom Lucia Bosè lends her unforgettable appearance, is truly the woman 'her tongue a pierced wafer' that Breton speaks of in his poem 'L'Union libre', the woman who assumes all sacrilege and subversive moral values, the only ones worth truly subscribing to. Isn't it she who spontaneously and automatically offers to Valerio to hide Sandro when she learns that he is wanted by the police? In a police society, the love that unites Valerio and Clara could only arise from a bond: they will hide Sandro as they've hidden their love. Lya Lys in  L'Age d'or was also forced to hide in order to join her lover...."

"(Rohmer's) summary dismissal of an excellent film by one of the greatest living filmmakers should be considered a good sign: right-wing irritation is sure proof that this pamphleteering film has hit its target. And as in all Buñuel's films, love is still amour fou. But here it is more serene, more worldly and more constructive.... It is through love that Valerio and Clara become able to confront an unjust system, and perhaps destroy it with the help of the people."


This program is dedicated to Lucia Bosè who died of COVID-19
March 23, 2020