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Film / Simon of the Desert

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This never happened to John the Baptist.
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Simon of the Desert is a 1965 featurette (45 minutes) directed by Luis Buñuel.

In the fifth century, an ascetic named Simon stands on a pillar about ten feet high in the middle of the desert, because that's the sort of thing ascetics do. The local peasants come to him to beg for miracles. The local priests come to pray and seek guidance from him. A prosperous merchant builds him a taller tower, closer to 25 feet high. His mother begs him to come down, but Simon, believing he is on a Mission from God, refuses.

Eventually Simon is approached by a beautiful woman (Silvia Pinal). He immediately recognizes her as Satan. Satan, who seems to find Simon's whole stand-on-a-pillar routine ridiculous, starts trying to tempt him to come down.

Silvia Pinal previously starred in Buñuel features Viridiana and The Exterminating Angel. There are differing explanations for why this film is so short. Buñuel apparently said later that he simply ran out of money. Pinal later insisted that Simon of the Desert was always supposed to be a featurette, initially planned as part of an Anthology Film, and that it was released separately after the other two short films in the anthology were never made.

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Tropes:

  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Brother Matthew is thrown for a loop when the goatherder gets too excited about his goat's nipples. ("Don't love those animals so!")
  • Catholic School Girls Rule: Satan appears dressed as a sexy Catholic schoolgirl in an attempt to lure Simon off his column.
  • Demonic Possession: Besides appearing in human form, Satan also possesses one of the monks, in order to stuff wine and cheese into Simon's food satchel and accuse him of hypocrisy.
  • Distant Finale: The bizarre ending has Satan whisk Simon some 1500 years into the future, where they relax in a New York nightclub.
  • Fan Disservice: Satan for some reason chooses to briefly appear as a naked, old, withered witch, before retreating at the end of her second appearance.
  • Fanservice: Satan exposes her breasts to Simon more than once, shows off her long legs, and demonstrates how long her tongue is by licking Simon's ear.
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  • Foreshadowing: The film opens with one of the townspeople addressing Simon and saying that he's been on his pillar for "six years, six months, and six days." No one seems to notice the significance of that, but Satan shows up soon after.
  • Gainax Ending: Satan apparently gets tired of trying to tempt Simon off the pillar, and simply takes him off. Suddenly they appear in New York City 1500 years later, in a nightclub of all places, watching young people dance frantically as a rock band plays. Simon wonders what dance they're doing, and Satan says it's the "'Radioactive Flesh.' It's the latest - and the last!" A disgruntled Simon says he wants to go back to his pillar in the desert, but Satan tells him that it's been occupied, and he'll have to stay with her "until the end." Then the movie ends.
  • Hermit Guru: Simon, standing on a pillar, praying to God.
  • Kick the Dog: For her second appearance Satan shows up as a shepherd who is clearly supposed to be God. Simon actually buys this for a while, until Satan hilariously drop-kicks her sheep away and urges Simon to come down and "taste earthly pleasures till you've had your fill."
  • Little People Are Surreal: The goatherd who keeps his flock near Simon's pillar is a little person. He seems to be sexually attracted to his goats.
  • Not So Different: Satan tells Simon that they are very much alike. She too believes in God, and she understands why Simon is trying to impress him.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Satan's shepherd disguise is basically Silvia Pinal wearing a fake beard, but Simon still falls for it.
  • Principles Zealot: Simon insists on staying on his pillar when he is accomplishing precisely nothing, as a sensible priest tells him towards the end of the film.
    Priest: Your unselfishness is admirable and very good for your soul. But I fear that, like your penance, it is of little use to man.
  • Rock Me, Asmodeus!: Implied at least, as the film ends with Satan taking Simon fifteen centuries in the future to a modern-day New York nightclub where a rock band is playing. Satan is dancing enthusiastically as the film ends.
  • Satan: Called "Diablo" in the credits, and appearing in the guise of the gorgeous Silvia Pinal. In her first appearance she tries to tempt him off the pillar with her sexuality. In her second appearance she pretends to be God, telling him to get off the pillar. In her third appearance she gives up on the tempting and takes Simon off the pillar by force, whisking him to...20th century Manhattan.
  • Satire: Of demonstrative, performative piety. When Simon performs a legit miracle, restoring the hands of a man who had his hands chopped off for thievery, the man uses his new hands to whack his daughter upside the head. The local people seem generally unimpressed by Simon's piety. Monks scream at each other about arcane dogma, only for one monk to shrug when another asks what the hell the others are talking about. Near the end Simon is forgetting the words to his prayers. And of course, Satan drop-kicks a goat.
  • Stocking Filler: Satan says "I'm an innocent girl. Look at what innocent legs I have," and raises the skirt to her fetish fuel Catholic schoolgirl uniform to show two long legs encased in stockings and garter belt.
  • Surrealism: Usually a trope in Buñuel films. Satan appears to Simon as a Catholic schoolgirl. There's a little person running around molesting goats. Satan shapeshifts into a withered old crone. Satan makes her last approach to Simon in a coffin, which slides along the desert until it gets to the foot of his tower, flipping open to reveal a half-naked Satan inside. And the film ends with them time-traveling to 20th century New York.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The townspeople seem rather jaded by Simon's miracles, as shown when he restores the hands of a man who had his chopped off.
    Onlooker: See that? The thing with the hands?
    Other onlooker: Yes. Any bread left?
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Believe it or not, there really was a 5th century mystic, Simeon Stylites, who stood on top of a pillar and prayed to God for 37 years.
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