The writings of Bill Mousoulis
feature L'Age d'Or is extremely funny and extremely sexy. A passion
play about the travails of love (or l'amour fou, though one wonders
exactly what the "mad" thing is) in the bourgeois world, it
combines a clear-cut narrative (a man and a woman are continuously thwarted
in their attempts to make love) with bizarre, random set pieces (the death
throes of a ragged band of soldiers; the killing of a child; a man walking
through a park with a loaf of bread on his head; a hair-adorned wooden
The film functioned as a Surrealist statement at the time, typically attacking the bourgeoisie and the Church. Now, L'Age d'Or still remains remarkably fresh, its violence incredibly salutary, its devilry magnificent.
It attacks the bourgeoisie both from the outside (as when two drunken yobs on a rickety horse and cart pass through the loungeroom where an upper-class party is taking place) and the inside (our hero is a ministerially-appointed "Ambassador of Good Will", and our heroine the daughter of a Marquise). And there's a glorious attack on Christianity in the closing sequence.
Our heroic, nameless couple, the Man (Gaston Modot) and Woman (Lya Lys), are in the throes of an intense, unconsummated desire all through the film. The erotic charge on display is exemplary: Modot looks in a store window at an advertising photo of a woman leaning back in a chair, and the film dissolves to Lys in the same pose. She then looks into her dressing-table mirror, and the infinite sky replaces her reflection, and she experiences a sublime psycho-sexual longing. Compared to this, the spiritual connection between the lovers in L'Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934) is somewhat mild and homely. Imagine what more Buñuel could have achieved in the '30s (think of Renoir) had he been given the chance ...
L'Age d'Or is one of the cinema's great "shock" films. At the time, it was accompanied by a manifesto. It needs no such justifications or provocations now. All one has to do is to watch it, and its power and passion literally explode off the screen.
© Bill Mousoulis July 2000
This review first appeared in Senses of Cinema, No.8, July-Aug 2000.