Quite a sprawling and indulgent picture, unlike the last two Buñuel films I've seen and blogged. It's shot in Toledo and set in the 1930s, a place and time that has personal significance for the director, and may have encouraged digressions and superfluities. The strengths of the film lie in the two leads. Fernando Rey plays a bourgeois anarchist, with all the hypocrisy that entails. Buñuel sees not a little of himself in Rey, so the mockery is moderated. While the character pontificates about freedom, at home he behaves like a tyrant. Worse, he seduces his ward and then gets dreadfully jealous when she yearns to escape his clammy grasp. But Buñuel allows some tenderness to seep in, particularly after his pseudo daughter becomes disabled. Deneuve reprises her role of chaste maiden learning about her own desires. But in the second half of the film she becomes darker, a sexual exhibitionist and would-be murderer.
The best moments in the film are where the quirks and about-turns of the two characters shine through – Deneuve's pleasure in choosing (even when the choices are near identical), Rey's insistence that all work that isn't pleasurable is base, Deneuve revealing her breasts to her deaf childhood playmate, Rey drinking chocolate with the priests. The one note of surrealism is a recurring dream Deneuve has of Rey's severed and bloody head as the clapper of a bell – a symbol of her sexual desire, her violent urges, and of her rebellion against the church.