I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

“There will be slaughtering tonight”: Occupying Luis Buñuel’s 1953 El Bruto

by Anthony Galli
Oct. 18, 2013

Note to self: do not sell soul for financial gain; it never turns out good in the end.

However, I digress.

On October 13, 2013, there was a clip of CNN talking head and “alleged” serial plagiarist Fareed Zakaria interviewing Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. Watching the interview, I felt like I was in the middle of some mainstream think-tank vortex where economic theory is formulated to protect and reward the existing global power structure, while the actual human beings who represent the economic “underclass” are considered nothing more than increments of corporate profit and loss.

At a certain point in this Wall Street lovefest, Fareed Zakaria, in his smarmiest and most condescendingly insider status demeanor asked Blankfein if he was aware that it was the second anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Zakaria snickered a little bit, and Blankfein responded as if the protests had never happened at all. “I must send flowers,” Blankfein responded with glee, laughing as if the federally assisted military force sent in to disperse crowds in New York City, and around the nation, was just hilarious.

Fareed Zakaria seemed very pleased with himself for making light of the Occupy movement, and the Clinton Global Initiative should be very proud of sponsoring this exchange.

However, I digress again.

Filmmaker Luis Buñuel is an iconic presence in world cinema, due, primarily, to his 1929 Salvador Dali collaboration Un Chien Andalou. The film’s groundbreaking surrealist imagery is familiar to people who even have no idea who Luis Buñuel is, and its presence remained so powerful through the years that David Bowie used it in 1976 as the “opening act” of his Station to Station tour.

Buñuel’s career was longer and more varied than that of many other filmmakers, travelling from the 1920’s through the 1970’s, and encompassed an incomprehensibly wide range of styles and subject matters. Belle du Jour, That Obscure Object of Desire, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Exterminating Angel, L'Age d'Or…a remarkable body of work that combined comedy, social realism, and absurdity to reflect the flawed nature of the human condition with the unsparing detail and attention of a man who has seen the worst, and has returned to report it.

El Bruto, Luis Buñuel’s 1953 social commentary, tells the story of a simple slaughterhouse employee, Pedro, aka “The Brute,” who takes a second job intimidating people for his boss Don Andrés. At first, Pedro’s nickname, “El Bruto,” seems more like an insult than a compliment, because all of his co-workers mock him incessantly for being weak, unable to “even pick up his own underwear,” whatever that means.

The underwear remark is only one of a number of ingenious insults in this film, joining verbal invective as creative as “may you be fed poisoned blood sausage of a pig and die like a street dog,” and, “I am going to peel off all the layers of your face skin!”

However, I have, yet again, digressed.

Despite Pedro’s apparent idiocy and incompetence, and despite the big, dumb look on his face that suggests someone who has yet to mature emotionally, we see that he has a volatile temper, as when he throws an entire side of beef on a fellow employee, or when the children of his girlfriend show off, to Don Andrés, the bumps they have received from their beatings. Pedro, in short, is just the type of unconscionable opportunist who will not think twice about pounding a few faces in to make a couple of extra bucks.

Don Andrés is a wealthy businessman with a diverse number of holdings. He owns the slaughterhouse and its attendant butcher shop, but he also owns a tenement block of apartments whose tenants he has evicted. Don Andrés has given his tenants twenty days to quit the premises, and when the working class families, which include grandparents and children, protest their eviction, Andrés replies that it is their concern, not his. “The law is the law,” he reminds them.

As an unlikely and somewhat reluctant spokesperson for the downtrodden, the ill, aged Carmelo Gonzales complains to Don Andrés that “The law is for the rich men, isn’t it?” and reminds the tenants that their fight against the commercial interests “is going to be very tough,” and “that’s why we must pull together and not let our hands go limp.”

Carmelo spoke for the working class and the common people who were tired of being pushed around when they are simply trying to care for their families and live their lives appropriately. As a member of this working class, Pedro has the choice of banding with his people against corporate oppression, or joining the side of the powerful and fighting against his community with the hopes of financial gain.

Needless to say, it doesn’t turn out good for “The Brute,” but did you think it would?

Luis Buñuel makes sure that the corrupt and contemptuous, the ones with “an evil soul,” are punished in El Bruto, and that the good who struggle for everything they’ve got, eventually meet reward. For such an unflinching look at the dangers of raging against the machine, Buñuel leaves us with a glimmer of hope in this contaminated landscape. He shows how the average citizen is nothing more than a swinging piece of meat, as exemplified by the slaughterhouse, where workers are continuously washing the blood off of a killing floor that will never get clean.

The rebellious are referred to variously as “impudent scamps,” “split pawed penniless plebeians,” “revolting scum,” and “wretched low-lives.” In modern day parlance, they could be referred to as the “1%” or, in favored corporate terms, the “47%”. El Bruto explores the consequences of unquestioned power, but also argues for the strength of the community against brute force.

But, when unbridled evil is personified in the face of Don Andrés’ paramour Paloma, played by the legendary Katy Jurado, , I can see how one could be tempted.

Anthony Galli currently lives in Athens, Georgia. He shares a birthday with his black cat, Magic, and they both claim Wings of Desire as their favorite film. Anthony has published two books of poetry, Amnesia for Insomniacs and Invisible Idiot.