Luis Bunuel was born in 1900 in Calanda, a village of about three thousand inhabitants, located 115 kilometers from Zaragoza in Spain. He was the first born of seven children. At the end of the last century Bunuel's parents owned a small cottage in Calanda, which they ripped down to build a larger one. In the mean time, they rented a stately mansion from a rich noble family. Here Luis was born to a wholesale merchant who had spent most of his life in America, and a Spanish native who had married him at the age of seventeen. Luis was baptized in Calanda just prior to his family moving to Zaragoza, the capital of Aragon.
Growing up he was a quiet little boy who served at mass, sang in the choir, and enjoyed playing with his two brothers and four sisters. The Bunuel children would dress up and put on plays using written dialogues. Sometimes Luis would participate in sadistic games, such as daring one another to swallow cigarette butts found in the street, or to eat sandwiches covered with ants.
At the young age of six, he was sent to the College of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, and at seven moved to the Jesuit College where he worked on his baccalaureat, of bachelor degree, until he was sixteen. He always received top grades, but was embarrassed when he received titles like "Laurel Crown", "Carthiginarian". When he was fifteen, he began spending all holidays in San Sebastian, returning home only for Easter.
His early life was not irrelevant to his development later in life as a film artist. He liberated himself violently from his religion, which had been the cause of a lot of anxiety earlier in life. Another aspect of his early life that he rebelled against was his social status. He was a product of the bourgeoisie, and his family was part of an urban culture that was liberal and intellectual, but also landowners. Bunuel's work as a film artist was a pitiless analysis of his childhood, filled with aesthetic reminders whether they be musical, literary, or simply objects.
Bunuel's chief interests after achieving his bachelor degree were music, being the violin, and natural sciences. Bunuel opted to continue his study of music, but his father refused, insisting that he continue his studies within his other interest. He was sent to the Students Residence in Madrid to study to be an agricultural engineer. He learned to hate his studies during this time as he was forced to study mathematics for three years. After that, Bunuel was determined to succeed without his father's advice or help. In 1920 he enrolled as a student under Dr. Bolivar, an entomologist and director of the Museum of Natural History in Madrid. He studied insects, but after a year realized that he was more interested in the life or literature of insects than their anatomy.
During this time he formed many friendships in the Students Residence with a group of young artists who would influence him greatly. Among them were the poets Federico Garcia Lorca and Moreno Villa, and painter Salvador Dali. Bunuel preferred having discussions with these friends to sitting at a microscope at the museum. Together, the young artists collaborated on literary publications and wrote poetry. Bunuel also pursued sports during this time. He became an amateur boxing champ in Spain.
It was his contact with the young artists, though, and their shared existence that was a catalyst to Bunuel as the celebrated film artist that he is known as today. The artists headed the Surrealist movement, from which Bunuel drew inspiration. Since 1920, Spain's most outstanding names in the fields of science, arts, and sociology have come from that incredibly strong movement. Many names along with the recognizable Bunuel and Salvador Dali are Alberti Guillen, Damaso Alonzo, Barradas, Palencia, Vazquez Diaz, Jose Ortega, and Adolfo Salazar.
Luis Bunuel went on to have an extensive film career. His important works often included details that were taken from his youth. The dreamlike imagery in his early films like 1928's Un Chien Andalou can be accounted for by his less than common childhood, his struggle with his religious beliefs, and his inspiration from his friends in the Students Residence.Later, his work changed as he moved into another period of his life. Films like Robinson Crusoe explore his entry into commercial cinema to a degree. Bunuel never lost sight of his goals as a film artist and he took from his past to create much of the imagery that turns up in his work.