on August 1, 2002
Luis Bunuel's last film . . . and he checked out with a masterpiece. It's the fifth adaptation of a torrid novel written in 1898 called *La Femme et le Pantin* (The Woman and the Puppet). The only famous version, besides this one, is 1935's *The Devil is a Woman* starring -- who else? -- Marlene Dietrich. In *That Obscure Object of Desire*, Fernando Rey is bedevilled by TWO women: in what can only be described as a stroke of genius, Bunuel cast 2 ladies to play the same part of Conchita, a young Spanish flamenco dancer who begins the movie as Rey's housemaid. The considerably different physiognomy of Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina would at first suggest a "light" or "dark" side of Conchita (or a "sophisticated" or "earthy" side -- take your pick). However, each actress is assigned to her respective scenes in a totally arbitrary manner: both run hot and cold with Rey. The CHARACTER is the same, no matter which actress plays her . . . which says something about the "objectification" in the title, perhaps. (But only Spanish Molina is allowed to dance the flamenco.) In other words, this interchangeability is more than just another of this director's famous Surrealist touches. Bunuel arrives at deeper truths about how men view women, how men need women, and how any woman will do -- despite, in this case, Mathieu's apparent obsession with one woman. The driving plot-line, which is whether or not Conchita will surrender her virginity to Mathieu, soon turns into circular entropy with no resolution. Which, after all, is the point: desire dies when it's resolved. Bunuel suggests that the sexual drive and its attendant perversities and neuroses never die. (The fact that Mathieu is 60 years old, give or take, is not an accident.) Indeed, desire dies only with death itself, as the film's final shot indicates.
on December 1, 2001
Ignore Leonard Maltin; there is not a single act of physical violence intended to arouse, although there's PLENTY of emotional abuse and a pretty harsh expression of rage. This is a movie about how sexual politics, specifically the chase of a woman, can consume a man's life, and how said sexual politics are, in the end, pointless in the context of the wider world. And not only are they pointless, they can be abruptly ended BY the wider world. In light of recent events, that's an excellent lesson to have around.
Of course, this being a movie from the director who gave us "Un Chien Andalou", there are some...offbeat touches. The role of Conchita is played by two actresses, a Frenchwoman and a Spaniard (slightly distracting at first, but once you know their faces, it fades.) A dwarf shows up rather early on. But overall, it's not particularly strange...just bitter. Despite it being his final film, the director's hatred of the idle rich comes through loud and clear.
I highly recommend this, a great, restrained piece from a master.
on October 16, 2001
Nobody makes films like Luis Bunuel. In this, his last film, he captures the related themes of obsessive desire, frustration, and immaturity perfectly, crafting a wicked black comedy. When a wealthy middle-aged man, played to perfection by Fernando Rey, is entranced by a young girl he has recently hired as one of the maids in his grand mansion, he pursues her obsessively.
The girl is played by two different actresses; here Bunuel is slyly saying to the audience, This man is too (two) distracted, too (two) obsessed. The girl alternately leads him on and crushes his hopes, time after time, yet still the man returns to be alternately entranced and crushed. His actions are ultimately revealed to be far too immature--if nothing else, based on the behavior of the girl--for his age, but he can't help himself.
Simultaneously, a guerilla group plants bombs and blows things up all over the city of Paris where the film is set. The immature need for immediate results, intensified by repeated frustration--typified by both the guerillas and the desperate man--is nowhere revealed in film as dramatically as in That Obscure Object of Desire. The film ends with the convergence of these two entities (the guerillas and the man) in a perfect climax.
The "message"? Not only that you can't always get what you want; more to the point, here is what people do all over the world: want things they don't understand, fail to understand what they want.
Highly recommended. Bunuel is like no other director, ever, and this film is without question one of his best.
Carole Bouquet is the thinner Conchita who is somewhat severe. Angela Molina is the one who dances and seems more natural.
Jean-Claude Carriere wrote the script. He may be the greatest screenwriter of all time. He has over a hundred credits and some of them are among the best movies ever made. Here's a brief list from those that I have seen: The Ogre (1996), Valmont (1989), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), Diary of a Chambermaid (1964).
There's some symbolism in Cet obscur objet du desir. Sometimes Mathieu (Fernando Rey) carries around an old gunny sack. We find out what's in it in the final scene. It represents Conchita's virginity. The terrorists in the background seem rather contemporary although this movie is from 1977. Mathieu is rich and therefore represents the established European society. Conchita and her friends represent the underclass. Both Mathieu and Conchita are really character types. He is the masher, the rake who is always working on a new conquest, although he is somewhat naive. She is the tease who uses her wiles to get what she can from him. Bunuel plays this ancient theme as a burlesque, exaggerating her coyness and his foolishness. The ending may suggest that in some way he has won, or more likely that they are still at a standoff, even while the terrorists escalate the bombings.
The question of why there are two actresses playing Conchita has more to do with Maria Schneider, who originally was cast in the role, but left because of the nudity or because Conchita's character was too contrary, than it has to do with any plot or symbolic necessity. On the other hand, since she is that "obscure object of desire" (which really should be that "unobtainable object of desire"), and because Bunuel wanted to emphasize that Mathieu's desire for her had nothing to do with her personally, he used two actresses and made it clear that Mathieu didn't notice the difference! A bit of absurdity here, but Bunuel is comfortable with absurdity.
All in all an interesting treatment of an ancient theme, but not one of Bunuel's best, even though it was his last at age 77.
A disturbing exageration and revelation of gender and power roles, this story is as true today as it was when penned over 100 years ago. It highlights the objectification that perverts love in capitalist society: while we see Conchita as the obvious (sex) object of Matthiu's desire, we are less conditioned to seeing Matthiu as the (success) object of Conchita's desire.
Throughout the movie, Conchita's running hot/cold attitude does nothing but inflame Matthiu's desire to possess her. (This split nature is highlighted by having two separate actresses play her role--although not necessarily synchronized with her frigid/steamy responses.) His language in courting her speaks of possession, of ownership. Bunuel highlights this ultimate consequence of capitalist society, where people become transformed into commodities solely valued in their ability to fulfill the desires of another.
Underlying the story of Matthieu and Conchita's complex relationship is a sense of the bizarre and of unexpected connections. Leftist and Rightist terrorist groups link up. A carjacking occurs outside the would-be lovers' window. A dwarf, who teaches private lessons in psychology joins Matthieu in his return trip to Paris, along with a judge who know's Matthieu's cousin.
Matthieu, with his money and power, performing no useful task to society, stands out as a parasite. But Conchita, who only wants to dance, takes Matthieu's money, and is, in her own way, a parasite as well. Her mother, who only attends church, yet is willing to accept money for her daughter, is a parasite whose only contribution to society is to pray for the soul of her late husband.
Eric Fromm has contrasted capitalism and socialism with the following distinction: Capitalism values objects over people, while socialism values people over objects. This masterpiece of Bunuel demonstrates that when objects become more valuable than people, people themselves become objects. Love gives way to the exchange of services for objects, and violence, as a form of redress, inevitably follows.
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on July 18, 2000
"That Obscure Object Of Desire," the last film by Luis Bunuel, is a masterpiece of the cinema. One of the best works in film ever made. Bunuel shows us desire and love with style, elegance, brilliance and of course, romance. This movie is never boring and keeps the viewer watching from the first frame to the last. His use of settings, costumes and photography is exquisite here. He even nicely adds Spanish flamenco music into the mix, adding to the hypnotic effect of this movie. But what makes "That Obscure Object Of Desire" such a great movie, is how Bunuel understands a man's desire towards a beautiful or special woman. It is a study of lust, and of what really is love. "That Obscure Object Of Desire" brilliantly disects the scenario of a man falling in love with a woman, lusting for her and enraptured by her. Bunuel basically studies the whole concept of love itself. It is touchingly romantic at times and surrealistic at others. No one other than Luis Bunuel could have made this movie. The direction is near perfect. The screenplay is just a work of pure genius. It was Bunuel's last film, and a fitting, breathtaking finale for a genius. There are surprises at every corner, and Bunuel manages to touch our heart, something you don't see very often in his masterworks because they are usually made to shock or provoke. This one is about feelings and desires. A masterpiece.
on October 10, 2003
"Any man who thinks he can read the mind of a woman is a man who knows nothing." -- Robert Evans.
This could have been the tagline for Bunuel's final movie, in which Fernando Rey's Mathieu grapples with his lust for Conchita, who seems to be leading him on for sadistic thrills. In his final surrealistic touch, Bunuel casts two women in the part of Conchita, a choice that has been interpreted a hundred different ways, though Bunuel himself insisted it was a random whimsical idea that just stuck. One thing on which everyone should agree, though, is that it adds to the mystery and ambiguity that is at the heart of Mathieu's relationship with Conchita. Had Bunuel made Mathieu consciously aware of this fact, it would've reduced it to a gimmick. This way, it preserves the obscurity of the title. I rank this movie as his best because he only got stronger as a filmmaker with time, and, this being his last one, it's informed by everything that came before. It's also wildly hilarious and very disturbing. This being a Criterion DVD, you can count on the best picture and sound quality, and a score of extra junk which may or may not interest you.
on January 20, 2000
This is a movie whose texture is so rich and whose possible interpretations are so various that you can watch it time and time again. It is extremely funny, but often in a kind of painful way. You sympathize with poor Matthieu, led such a merry dance by the girl he's obsessed with, but you also know he's vain and rather foolish. Surely Bunuel's greatest movie. Anyone got any ideas on what the pig in a sack symbolizes?
on January 31, 2003
I really really enjoyed this film, even more than The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie. It may be Bunuel's most direct, accessible film--but that does not make it any less (terroristically) subversive. Fernando Rey stars as Don Mateo, an aging bourgeois, who has suddenly and completely fallen in love with Conchita, a Spanish seductress par excellence. Conchita however, proves a very difficult guitar to play... I watched it alone. But it is a good question. It is not easy to look at the characters objectively--to view their never-ending game of sexual politics as being just that: the historical "hatred of the sexes," as Nietzsche called it.
This is an engrossing film and there are many reasons for this. One of them is the magnificent cinematography. That Obscure Object is a colorful film. It looks good. And Bunuel plays many of his usual jokes on his characters--overwhelming the upper middle class with terrorism--both actual and sexual! Fernando Rey plays a wonderful role and (though he may be a naive bourgeois!) is extremely charming and attracts our sympathy.
This is a DVD worth buying. Criterion's transfers always amaze me. The special features are great: a relatively long interview with scenarist Jean-Claude Carrier, the theatrical trailer for the film, and excerpts from another 1929 silent film based on the novel (The Woman and the Puppet) which was the source for That Obscure Object's screenplay. Baroncelli's black and white treatment of the erotic novel seems to be a great movie itself and maybe Criterion should consider releasing it on DVD also!
The Criterion Collection edition of Luis Bunuel's That Obscure Object of Desire was worth the price!
on February 2, 2004
So many of the negative views on this master piece are missing the point. This final picture is Bunel's take on the subject of power struggle between the sexes. It has been said that there are three fundamental things that propel everything in a society, Power, Money and Sex. Power and money belong to the category of class struggle and Bunuel has illuminated his view on this subject (mixed in with Religion as the fourth element) with so many films. And he decided to take on the battle of the sexes at the time when he was no longer under the tyrany of this primodial force called sexual desire. It is Bunel's stroke of genius in casting two female actress with totally opposite persona. I first saw this movie in my college days and couldn't make anything out of it like so many reviewers here. Now, I am much older, devorced, and having spent a few more years dating again. Now, on second viewing, I understand Bunuel. This is one movie, in fact, the whole subject matter of human desire, really requires a good amount of experience of life, especially the darker and more tragic side of it, as a prerequisit for even a basic understanding.