1 Hr., 20 Mins.
The Brute November 16, 2020
don’t know if I did or did not want to make a melodrama,” Buñuel, apparently not really winking, later reflected.
The Brute is about an avaricious and elderly landlord named Cabrera (Andrés Soler) who hires Pedro (Pedro Armendáriz), a tall and thick-necked butcher, to work for him as an enforcer. Cabrera is scheming to evict four of his tenants so that he can demolish their properties and build a house for himself. They are understandably firm about staying put — hence Pedro’s employment. Cabrera doesn’t sympathize with tenants when they bring up their financial insecurity; he’s more wont to cry “They’re trying to rob me!" than reflect on why his request might be met with pushback.
Soon, the melodrama really kicks in. Pedro and Cabrera’s volatile wife, Paloma (Katy Jurado), begin to have an affair; they both experience a sort of lust-at-first-sight frisson snake through their bodies when she lets him into her home for the first time. Concurrently, Pedro falls in actual love with Meche (Rosa Arenas), the daughter of one of the to-be-evicted tenants. To Buñuel’s eye (he wrote the script with Luis Alcoriza), this isn’t knotty enough. Why not have Pedro beat up Meche’s dad as an intimidation tactic only to have him, to his horror, soon die from his injuries?
The Brute is less demanding than the movies for which Buñuel is best known. Although celebrated for making singular satire-surrealism fusions for most of his career, there was a short period, beginning in the late-1940s (it followed an almost decade-long break from filmmaking), during which he found success in the Mexican film industry by making more accessible features attentive to
popular tastes. The Brute is one of those “commercial” features; though, to be expected when an iconoclast is working under the conditions of convention, it doesn’t feel throwaway. While able to be enjoyed as an escapist soap opera where nothing ever goes right — it’s a movie made up of overwrought wrongs — it’s a fascinating study of two men, Cabrera and Pedro, who look to validate their masculinity through capitalistic success and equally weighted sex and violence, respectively. Cabrera oppresses; Pedro helps him maintain it. In the film their destructiveness eventually comes back around to destroy them — the cosmos do not care if there comes a moment where moral clarity for one of them is found.
The characters in The Brute don’t transcend their set “types,” but they’re played credibly by the cast. Jurado, playing an archetypal femme fatale, perhaps has the most one-dimensionally written character of the bunch: Paloma
compounds various misogynistic tropes familiar to anyone who has met a “deadly woman” in a movie. Yet Jurado's performance is the one which most sticks out. She’s plainly having a great time as a pot-stirring villainess increasingly prone to snarling and slapping when things don’t go her way. Her liveliness is infectious. Jurado is so much a loud-and-proud movie star in The Brute that even if her fellow castmates come off well, she outshines them; she does a kind of scene-stealing that doesn’t feel greedy (as the practice can feel when a performer is too indulgent) because watching her is so thrilling.
When her character makes eye contact at the very end of the film with something that can only be described as a very-ominous visual motif, though, it’s suggested that even if she has made it to the end of the movie for the most part unscathed, it won't be long before its world's always-looking-for-a-fight karma comes for her. In The Brute, you can’t so easily evade the universe’s sense of righteousness. A-
uis Buñuel’s The Brute is a tawdry melodrama, but it’s fun-tawdry. Is Buñuel winking at us? It was released in 1953, in the middle of what is now considered a more “commercial” period in his long and capricious career. A swift 80 minutes, The Brute is like a movie equivalent of a dime-store potboiler churned out under a pseudonym by a great artist doing one for “them” so he can do one for himself. “It is what it is. I