« The Bounty Hunter | Main | The Eclipse »

March 20, 2010

THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Obscure-object-of-desire"That Obscure Object of Desire" was Luis Buñuel's swan song to a 50-year career as surrealism's preeminent filmmaker. The narrative expands on a corollary between romantic dysfunction and societal collapse as witnessed through a grotesque example of amour fou.

Buñuel co-wrote "That Obscure Object of Desire" with longtime collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière, and based his work on Pierre Loyuy’s 1898 novella "La Femme et le Pantin." Buñuel's masterstroke lay in his casting of French beauty Carole Bouquet and Spanish actress Angela Molina in the same role: Conchita, the virginal romantic object of Mathieu (Fernando Rey), an older wealthy French businessman. Mathieu desires most the thing that he cannot have. He is a prisoner to his own fetishistic trap that finds prominent satisfaction in his own humiliation. 

Obscureobject

Terrorist attacks and public address announcements about violence from leftist and rightist extremists underlie Mathieu's self-defeating attempts to make love to Conchita, whose hot and cold personality drags out their romantic entanglement beyond the brink of frustration. Thematically, Mathieu represents far rightwing mentality set against the free-spirited leftist struggles of a female underclass that Mathieu abuses even as he attempts to win them over to his side.    

That obscureobjectofdesire

Much has been made of Buñuel's decision to fire Maria Schneider before replacing her with Bouquet and Molina, but Buñuel and Carrière had originally discussed interchanging two actresses for the role when they co-wrote the script. Buñuel's used a third actress to voice Conchita's dialogue, adding a subconscious unity to an ostensibly bipolar character.

That-Obscure-Object-of-Desire

"That Obscure Object of Desire" (1977) makes its playful attitude apparent during its opening scene. Mathieu douses a bandaged Conchita with a bucket of water on a train platform before sharing his tale of self-inflicted woe with a woman and her young daughter, and a curious Freudian psychologist (who happens to be a dwarf) on a Seville-to-Paris train. Mathieu explains his hostile actions by proclaiming the woman he dumped water upon to be "the worst of all women." By the time the train reaches Paris, Mathieu's brief audience comes to realize that he is the bottom rung of humanity.

Obscureobject

Told in flashbacks, the story of his love-at-first-sight affair with his former maid plays out as a comedy of confused social mores among people who should know better. Mathieu and Conchita each display equal amounts of sadomasochistic behavior. Neither is able to transfer their remote inner passions into carnal action. Aside from its psychopoliticosexual theme, the film is an endearing love letter to the cities of Seville and Paris; their sunny locales carry an amusing sense of longing and personal history even as danger lurks in every corner. Buñuel finesses the unrequited love between his characters with such a command of cinematic spontaneity that you could watch the film a hundred times and still come away with fresh realizations. Genius. 

Obscure Desire

Five Stars

A small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!

PATREON BUTTON

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Videos

COLE SMITHEY’S MOVIE WEEK

COLE SMITHEY’S CLASSIC CINEMA

Throwback Thursday


Podcast Series