25 Luis Buñuel Quotes on Art, Filmmaking, and Dreams


An artist whose work melded poetry, cinema, and dreams, Luis Buñuel would have been 115 years old this weekend. During the premiere of Un chien andalou, his 1929 silent surrealist short film written with Salvador Dalí, Buñuel filled his pockets with rocks to defend himself in case a fight broke out during the screening. He expected audiences to react negatively to his stark images of a woman’s eye being slit open (actually that of a dead calf). In a 1967 interview, Buñuel was asked if he still shows up to his screenings at the ready, pockets filled with rocks. “At that time, I carried the rocks not to defend my film but to defend our ideas, the group’s ideas,” he responded. In celebration of Buñuel’s intuitive ideas, here are 25 quotes from the filmmaker about life, art, cinema, and dreams.

“I have a soft spot for secret passageways, bookshelves that open into silence, staircases that go down into a void, and hidden safes.”

“Give me two hours a day of activity, and I’ll take the other 22 in dreams — provided I can remember them.” —when asked how he would spend time if he were told that he had 20 years to live

“I love dreams, even when they’re nightmares, which is usually the case. My dreams are full of the same obstacles, but it doesn’t matter. My amour fou for the dreams themselves as I shared with the surrealists. Un chien andalou was born of the encounter between my dreams and [Salvador Dalí]’s. Later, I brought the dreams directly into my films, trying as hard as I could to avoid any analysis. ‘Don’t worry if the movie’s too short,’ I once told a Mexican producer. ‘I’ll just put in a dream.’ He was not impressed.”

“I have a list of about fifteen recurring dreams that have pursued me all my life like faithful traveling companions.”

“Waking dreams are as important, as unpredictable, and as powerful as those we have when we’re asleep.”

Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.”

“I’ve always preferred loving to being loved.”

Sex without religion is like cooking an egg without salt. Sin gives more chances to desire.”

“If someone were to prove to me — right this minute — that God, in all his luminescence, exists, it wouldn’t change a single aspect of my behavior.”

“Fortunately, somewhere between chance and mystery lies imagination, the only thing that protects our freedom, despite the fact that people keep trying to reduce it or kill it off altogether.”

“Don’t drink and smoke. It’s bad for your health. ” —before going on to say that “alcohol and tobacco are excellent accompaniments to lovemaking.” Buñuel, a heavy smoker, also once said: “If the devil were to offer me a resurgence of what is commonly called virility, I’d decline. Just keep my liver and lungs in good working order, I’d reply, so I can go on drinking and smoking!”

“You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all.”

“I should like to make even the most ordinary spectator feel that he is not living in the best of all possible worlds.” —when asked why he makes movies

“Nothing would disgust me more morally than winning an Oscar.”

“The films that influenced me the most, however, were Fritz Lang’s. When I saw Destiny (1921), I suddenly knew that I too wanted to make movies. It wasn’t the three stories themselves that moved me so much, but the main episode — the arrival of the man in the black hat, whom I instantly recognized as Death, in a Flemish village, and the scene in the cemetery. Something about this film spoke to something deep in me; it clarified my life and my vision of the world. This feeling occurred whenever I saw a Lang movie, particular the ‘Nibelungen’ movies, and Metropolis (1927).”

“I’m a Kubrick fan, ever since Paths of Glory. Fabulous movie; that’s what it’s all about: codes of conduct, the way people behave when the codes break down. A Clockwork Orange is my current favorite. I was very predisposed against the film. After seeing it, I realized it is the only movie about what the modern world really means.”

“I don’t really like working. I work very hard at idleness. I’m able to spend months without doing anything and I’d like to end by doing nothing. I don’t know.”

“[The cinema] is an instrument of poetry, with all that word can imply of the sense of liberation, of subversion of reality, of the threshold of the marvelous world of the subconscious, of nonconformity with the limited society that surrounds us.”

“A writer or painter cannot change the world. But they can keep an essential margin of nonconformity alive.”

“Don’t ask me my opinions on art, because I don’t have any. Aesthetic concerns have played a relatively minor role in my life, and I have to smile when a critic talks, for example, of my ‘palette.’ I find it impossible to spend hours in galleries analyzing and gesticulating. Where [Pablo Picasso]’s concerned, his legendary facility is obvious, but sometimes I’m repelled by it. I can’t stand Guernica, which I nonetheless helped to hang. Everything about it makes me uncomfortable — the grandiloquent technique as well as the way it politicizes art. Both Alberti and [José Bergamín] share my aversion; in fact, all three of us would be delighted to blow up the painting, but I suppose we’re too old to start playing with explosives.”

“A paranoiac, like a poet, is born, not made.”

“I can’t help feeling that there is no beauty without hope, struggle, and conquest.”

“Today’s culture is unfortunately inseparable from economic and military power. A ruling nation can impose its culture and give a worldwide fame to a second-rate writer like [Ernest Hemingway]. [John Steinbeck] is important due to American guns. Had [John Dos Passos] and [William Faulkner] been born in Paraguay or in Turkey, who’d read them?”

“Mystery is the essential element of every work of art.”

“There was indeed something in the air, and my connection with the surrealists in many ways determined the course of my life.”