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The Milky Way (1969 film)

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Title: The Milky Way (1969 film)  
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Subject: Jean-Claude Carrière, Luis Buñuel, List of film director and actor collaborations, Milky Way (disambiguation), Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

The Milky Way (1969 film)

The Milky Way
The French theatrical poster.
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Produced by Serge Silberman
Starring Paul Frankeur
Laurent Terzieff
Michel Piccoli
Cinematography Christian Matras
Running time
91 min (France)
101 min (Germany)
105 min (USA)
Country France
West Germany
Language French

The Milky Way (Michel Piccoli. Buñuel later called The Milky Way the first in a trilogy (along with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Phantom of Liberty) about “the search for truth."[1]

The title of the film comes from the fact that original name for the Milky Way was the Way of St. James which directed pilgrims from northern Europe to Spain.[2]

Today, critical reception for The Milky Way is strongly positive.


  • Synopsis 1
  • Plot 2
  • Cast 3
  • Reception 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


In the film, two men travel the ancient pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela and meet embodiments of various Catholic heresies along the way. These religious events are based on actual historical documents. For instance, the archbishop whose corpse is exhumed and publicly burned is based on Archbishop Carranza of Toledo.[2] The film ends with the following text:

The Milky Way plays with time. The two main characters often encounter individuals in the dress of various time periods throughout history, or historical events take place in the modern setting of the film, including scenes from the life of Jesus Christ. In his autobiography, Buñuel explains that he wanted to put Jesus Christ in the film because he "wanted to show him as an ordinary man, laughing, running, mistaking his way, preparing to shave — to show, in other words, all those aspects completely alien to our traditional iconography."[2]

Often, these encounters involve conversations or arguments regarding a specific Catholic doctrine or heresy, and are intended to show the absurdity of making absolute statements about such topics as a "matter of fact". Two heresies prominent in the film are Priscillianism and Jansenism.


Two French vagrants, Pierre and Jean, decide to take the pilgrimage route from Paris to Santiago de Compostela along the traditional Way of St. James. As they walk along a roadside in France, they encounter a man in a black cape who tells them to sleep with a prostitute and have children with her. Then the pilgrims reach an inn, where a police sergeant and a priest are discussing the nature of the eucharist and whether the body of Christ enters it by transubstantiation or consubstantiation. The discussion ends absurdly as the priest is taken away by staff from a nearby mental hospital. Later on, the pilgrims find shelter for the night on a farm while a secret Priscillian sect is meeting nearby. The secret service involves ritual repetition, a short statement of faith, followed by sexual encounters between the male and female congregation. Next, the pilgrims seek food from an upscale restaurant, wherein the manager is explaining to his staff the controversy of the divinity of Jesus Christ as debated during the First Council of Nicaea. Later on, the pilgrims pass by a boarding school and watch the children perform for their parents and teachers. As a class of young girls recites heresies and proclaim them "anathema", one of the pilgrims imagines the execution of a pope by a band of revolutionaries. Further on, after they curse a passing car, it crashes and the driver is killed. Investigating the wreckage, they encounter a strange man, maybe the Devil, who gives one of the pilgrims the dead man's shoes. Then the pilgrims come across a chapel, where a group of Jansenist nuns is nailing one nun to a wooden cross. Outside, a Jesuit and a Jansenist have a sword duel while arguing over doctrines of predestination and irresistible grace for sinners.

Finally, the two pilgrims reach Spain, where they agree to take care of a donkey for two other men. These new men leave the pilgrims travel to a nearby abbey where they watch the official desecration of a priest's grave because of the discovery of heretical posthumous writings regarding the nature of the trinity. The two men proclaim loudly that the Godhead is not trinitarian and escape. In the forest, they switch clothes with some hunters swimming in a lake, and destroy by gunfire a rosary discovered in one of their pockets. Later that night, a vision of the Virgin Mary appears to them and returns the rosary. The two men and the original pilgrims meet again at an inn, where they tell a local priest about their recent miraculous vision. The priest recounts another miracle, in which the Virgin Mary takes the form and duties of an errant nun for several years until the nun returns to the convent as if she had never left. Later that night, the priest further explains how her virginity must have remained intact during both the spiritual conception and the physical birth of Jesus, like "sunshine penetrating a window".

On the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela, the two pilgrims meet a prostitute who wants to become pregnant and gives the same names for the children as those predicted by the man in the cape at the beginning of the film. In the last episode of the film, two blind men encounter Jesus and his disciples. Their blindness is healed but they cannot understand what they are seeing or walk unaided.



Rotten Tomatoes reports 93% approval for The Milky Way, with an average rating of 7.7/10 among 14 critics.[4]


  1. ^ "The Milky Way".  
  2. ^ a b c Buñuel, Luis. My Last Sigh. Trans. Abigail Israel. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8166-4387-3. page 245.
  3. ^ French, Lawrence (26 February 2009). """Supernal Dreams: Jean-Claude Carriere on Luis Bunuel’s Sublime Fantasy, "The Milky Way. Cinefantastique. Retrieved 18 April 2010. 
  4. ^ (1969) on RT"The Milky Way". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 7, 2015. 

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