A seemingly rational, well mannered artist named Archibaldo de la Cruz (Ernesto Alonso) recounts the moment of revelation of his fated destiny as he methodically turns the pages of a photography book of war casualties. On an ominous evening during an unnamed civil insurrection, a spoiled young Archibaldo is entrusted to the care of a stern and attractive governess (Leonor Llausás) while his wealthy, neglectful parents attend a social event. In order to pacify the temperamental boy, his doting mother allows him to play with a cherished music box that, she explains, possesses magical powers and must be handled carefully. The governess tacitly accommodates his mother’s prevarication by concocting a story about a king who used the music box to rid himself of his enemies. In a bizarre coincidence, Archie winds the music box… and a stray bullet shatters through the window and kills the governess. Alone with the body of the dead governess, the young and impressionable Archibaldo is aroused by the graceful and sensual form of her body, and becomes convinced of his omnipotence over the destinies of women. He readily confesses that it is this pursuit to recreate and attain this ideal image that has led him on his murderous obsession. The polite and attentive sister of mercy, Sister Trinidad (Chabela Durán), recoils from Archibaldo’s unrepentant admission, only to find that he has already selected his latest victim.
Luis Buñuel creates a macabre and insightful comedy on obsession, machismo, and bourgeois hypocrisy in The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz. Using the repeated imagery of mirrors and reflections, Buñuel provides a figurative window into his own sardonic humor and personal idiosyncrasies: a foot fetish suggested through the death of the governess (that is subsequently manifested in Diary of a Chambermaid and Tristana); a sense of voyeurism that arises from vigilant observation, revealed through Archibaldo’s discovery of a lovers’ quarrel (shown through an angled mirror) and Carlota’s (Ariadna Welter) rendezvous with her lover; an obsession to capture the essence of the perfect woman through Lavinia (Miroslava Stern) and her mannequin likeness (the doppelganger imagery is also examined in his final film, That Obscure Object of Desire). In a playful homage to the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, Buñuel further illustrates his droll and incisive wit by creating a surreal twist to pivotal Hitchcockian images involving a glass of milk (Notorious) and a straight razor (Spellbound). Through Archibaldo’s bizarre and unorthodox dual life as a serial killer, Buñuel subverts the conventional devices of a suspense film and creates an irreverent and audacious personal statement on the conundrum of sexual politics.
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