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I think there are several levels in the use of the "idiots" in LAS HURDES.
(I certainly remember how strongly the image struck me when I first saw
the film many years ago.):
 
1. It *does* serve as an index of the impoverishment of the land and village,
on the same order as the stream that serves as both water supply and sewer
and contrasts with the drawings on the schoolroom walls.  (This is a
very *angry* film, among other things.)
 
2. Its shock effect also provides a kind of humor.  "The way to the village
is guarded by idiots" (or something like that), the narrator says.  It's
a disconcerting statement that provokes an uneasy laugh when the viewer
realizes the double meaning of "idiots" (which was at one time a more or less
clinical term for a certain level of mental retardation--followed by "moron"
and "cretin").
        The disjunction is somewhat similar to Faulkner's use of Benjy in
THE SOUND AND THE FURY--"a tale told by an idiot" indeed!  (except that
Benjy's subjective view in words in far different from Bunuel's objective
images)
 
3. Finally, the "idiots" also demonstrate a typcially surrealist fascination
with other orders of being that depart from the bourgeois norm, ranging from
sexual perversity to various kinds of physical and mental impairment.
Those images, of course, carry their own burdens of objectification and
distortion!
 
All told, LAS HURDES clarified all the rest of Bunuel's work for me in a way
I had never quite understood before!
 
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
 
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