The “garden” of Death In The Garden (La Mort En Ce Jardin) (Microcinema) is the South American jungle, but there’s death everywhere in this rarely seen Luis Bunuel thriller. Chark, a hard-bitten prospector (Georges Marchal) wanders into a rural mining village and the middle of an uprising against the corrupt military rule. He’s hardly an innocent, but in this mercenary world he’s as close to hero as we’ll find even as he uses the uprising for his own revenge and escape from a criminal frame-up. Some escape; the second half of the film follows Chark and a rag-tag group of mercenaries (including Simone Signoret as an opportunistic hooker and innocents (Michel Piccoli as a naïve but sincere priest and Michèle Girardon as the deaf-mute daughter of a local miner) fleeing the violence of the uprising into the jungle, where they become lost in the “garden” which, true to Bunuel and his cheeky Biblical reference, is both beautiful and deadly.
This 1956 Franco-Mexican co-production was one of Bunuel’s “commercial” films and he delivers a wonderfully cynical thriller filled with brilliant Bunuelian flourishes (Chark is arrested but dragged to a church on his way to the station, where the cop kicks him in the leg to make him kneel in prayer) and a grim sense of futility. But Bunuel is also a solid commercial filmmaker and he delivers a tight thriller filled with cynicism right out of American film noir and an atmosphere unique to this film. The jungle scenes may be studio-bound, but the thick, smothering foliage creates a hothouse claustrophobia and the soundtrack is dense with the alien world of nature, whether it’s the oppressive white noise of the rain or the constant bird chirps and insect buzzing of day time scenes. The disc is nicely mastered from a restored print with vivid color and includes both French and Spanish soundtracks with English subtitles. There’s a generous new 35-minute career retrospective interview with Michel Piccoli conducted by Juan-Luis Bunuel, as well as an interview with Bunuel scholar Victor Fuentes, commentary by film scholar Ernesto R. Acevedo-Munoz and an accompanying booklet with essays.