El Bruto is not one of Luis Bunuel’s better known movies. Maybe this is because it’s more conventional than critically acclaimed films like Belle de Jour and The Exterminating Angel. In many ways it’s a standard melodrama with a social justice theme. But even if it isn’t as challenging as some of Bunuel’s other work, it’s still a powerful and disturbing piece of filmmaking.
Pedro Armendariz plays Pedro, a simple man who works in a slaughterhouse. His boss, Cabrera, asks him to leave the slaughterhouse to take on a special job. Cabrera owns an apartment building and wants to evict the tenants to clear the way for a profitable deal. He decides to have someone lean on the tenants to scare them off. The tough, naive Pedro seems perfect for the job, but things don’t go quite as planned.
Pedro is a brute, but it’s hard not to have some sympathy for him. He doesn’t think, he just acts, and things quickly go from bad to worse. Because he doesn’t understand what’s going on around him, he’s easily manipulated by just about anybody who wants to use him.
The film shows how Mexican society revolves around the few people with money, and these are the people who have all the power. Cabrera is called ‘patron’ by everybody who works for him. The word could be translated as ‘boss’, but it also shows respect and deference. Cabrera acts like a paternal figure, and he does look out for those who work for him. But his generosity only extends as far as his business interests permit. He appears to treat Pedro well. Then we find out that Pedro is probably his illegitimate son. With this revelation, Bunuel makes an incisive comment on the relationship between power and pretense in the Mexican class structure.
Armendariz and Soler are both excellent, as is most of the cast. Katy Jurado is especially seductive and disturbing as Cabrera’s young wife, Paloma. Bunuel’s direction is typically simple and straightforward. Agustin Jimenez’ cinematography vividly captures the contrasts of urban Mexico. The title is perfect. It’s a brutal film, and one you won’t quickly forget.