While arch surrealist Luis Bunuel never made a secret of his skepticism about the existence of God, he was also raised as a strict Spanish Catholic and remained fascinated with the church's teaching throughout his life, and his obsessions with both faith and the contradictions of dogma provided the basis for this episodic satiric comedy.
Jean (Laurent Terzieff) and Pierre (Paul Frankeur) are two threadbare vagabonds who are making their way from Paris to Spain on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of Saint James are believed to be kept.
While Jean and Pierre's journey begins in the 20th Century, as they travel they seemingly develop the ability to move through time and space as they pass through a variety of historical scenes taken from a broad range of theological texts -- and all involving heresy in one form or another.
As they walk the long road to Santiago de Compostela (when they can't catch a ride), Jean and Pierre encounter Jesus (Bernard Verley), who decides not to shave his beard to keep his mother happy; a young boy with stigmata and unusual powers; the Marquis de Sade (Michel Piccoli), who patently struggles to teach atheism to a young girl he's captured; an eccentric priest who has an irreversible belief in transubstantiation until he changes his mind; two men who put their debate over Catholic dogma to the test in a duel with swords; and Satan (Pierre Clementi), who shows up just in time for a car wreck.
La Voie Lactee (aka The Milky Way) was scripted by Bunuel and his frequent screenwriting collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere; each of the film's historic episodes was adapted faithfully from an actual biblical text or historical account.