Los Abismos de Pasion: Better than the British

     When Emily Brontė published Wuthering Heights in 1847, the thought that her story would one day make it to the silver screen probably never crossed her mind, especially since she did not know what a silver screen was. Had she lived to be 121, she could have seen William Wyler's attempt at an adaptation. And if she survived 15 more years, she could also have seen Luis Buńuel's Mexican version Los Abismos de Pasion. And if, in her state, she could pick the better film, I think her vote would go to Buńuel.

     I suspect that Brontė was a firm believer in the principle of "passion over propriety": that is, the emotion of a film is more important than intellect or artifice. And Buńuel's effort is far more passionate than Wyler's. (Not to blame Wyler, of course; he was working from a low-grade screenplay for a constricting producer.)

     Brontė led Heathcliff and Cathy above the restrictions of proper British behavior. I think Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur managed to leave that out in their screenplay (along with the second half of the novel.) Consequently, Wyler's film had little emotional appeal.

     And it is not solely because of Buńuel that Los Abismos de Pasion is as burning as it is. Passion is a part of Mexican life. The warm climate is very helpful in bringing out any man's heart. And if the man's heart is screaming, as Heathcliff's was in Brontė's novel, let it be brought out in a more accommodating environment.

     Just compare the settings of the two films. Wyler's was set in the southern California hills, which were was supposed to be rural Yorkshire England, just as in Brontė's novel. Buńuel's was set on a ranch in Mexico. I see the ranch as an open place, physically and emotionally, one where a war of souls can take place unrestricted. The English moors, it seems, are quite conducive to a bottling-up of one's emotions. Catharsis would be more difficult there, where anything but silence is frowned upon.

     Perhaps Brontė wanted it that way. Maybe the moors were all she knew. But I believe Buńuel's remake, though set in a place thousands of miles away, better captures the spirit, and the passion, of Brontė's Wuthering Heights.

Jared R. Nelson

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