A 1975 French-Spanish-Italian co-production directed by Juan Luis
Bunuel, a medieval set period piece dealing with necromancy and undying
love. LEONOR is better than Bunuelís previous genre effort, the dull
haunted house chiller
EXPULSION OF THE DEVIL, but it still
leaves much to be desired.
The basis of LEONOR was the early-1800s German tale
ďWake Not the Dead,Ē attributed (wrongly, itís been claimed) to Johann
Ludwig Tieck. Other evident influences were the stories of Edgar Allan
Poe, who appears to have bequeathed the title and much of the filmís
imagery (such as a bricked-up crypt).
LEONOR was the second feature directed by Juan Luis
Bunuel. Unlike his more famous father, Juan Bunuel never quite hit his
stride as a filmmaker, as this film amply demonstrates. LEONOR did at
least score an English dubbed U.S. release courtesy of New Line Cinema,
followed by early eighties VHS distribution through Magnetic Video
before largely vanishing into obscurity.
The medieval lord Richardís beloved wife Leonor is
dying. Despite the best efforts of Richard and a doctor acquaintance,
who opens Leonorís veins in an effort at reviving her, Leonor expires.
The grief-stricken Richard marries the luscious young brunette
Catherine, but he canít help but pine after Leonor. Eventually Richard
smashes open Leonorís bricked-up crypt in a fit of madness, and meets a
strange man who claims he can bring Leonor back to life--but that
Richard would be better off leaving her at rest. Richard, however,
insists his lost love be brought back.
As per his wishes, a living, breathing Leonor appears
before him. She remembers little of her former life, but Richard is
nonetheless determined to resume that life, so much so that he kills
Catherine and drops her corpse into a well.
The undead Leonor is uncharacteristically antisocial,
and inexplicably kills a little girl. This seems to revive her sexual
appetite, as is proven the following night when she responds quite
vociferously to Richardís nocturnal advances. More children turn up
dead, including Richardís own, until one day Leonor is caught
approaching a little girl tied to a tree whoís been used as bait by
This, however, doesnít deter the obsessed Richard from
continuing his undead romance, even though it seems that Leonor is
readying a new victim: Richard himself!
LEONORíS air of deathless romance could have used a
more lush and atmospheric visual treatment than the rather flat and
uninspired visuals crafted by Juan Bunuel. Further damage is done by the
technically proficient but overly melodramatic score by Ennio Morricone,
and the fact that for some unfathomable reason Bunuel and his
co-screenwriters elected to jettison the vampiric elements of the source
tale, or at least render them so ambiguous they might as well be
nonexistent (no blood drinking is never shown and Leonor is frequently
seen cavorting in broad daylight). Why?
The art direction, at least, is impressive, imparting a
genuinely primitive feel to the proceedings, whose plague-ridden
medieval setting feels entirely convincing. Equally effective is the
performance of Liv Ullmann, who has an appropriately spectral,
otherworldly air as Leonor. Michel Piccoli isnít bad either as the
lovesick (though none-too-sympathetic) Richard. Itís no wonder the
proceedings work better as a supernaturally tinged account of dark
romance than as a horror flick, which in all fairness may have been Juan
Arcadie Productions/Films 66/Goya Producciones Cinemtograficas
Director: Juan Luis Bunuel
Producer: Michel Piccoli
Screenplay: Roberto Bodegas, Juan Luis Bunuel, Jean
Claude Carriere, Clement Biddle Wood, Bernardino Zapponi
Cinematography: Luciano Tovoli
Editing: Pablo G. del Amo
Cast: Michel Piccoli, Liv Ullmann, Ornella Muti, Antonio Ferrandis, Jose
Maria Prada, Angel del Pozo, Jose Guardiola, George Rigaud, Jose Maria