THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY
Review by Michael Jacobson
Andriana Asti, Julien Bertheau, Jean Rochefort
Director: Luis Bunuel
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: Video Introduction, Trailer
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: May 24, 2005
sick of symmetry."
Phantom of Liberty is a comic game of hopscotch through surrealism and social satire.
It was Luis Bunuel's second to last film, and while it may pale slightly
in comparison to the movies that bookended it The Discreet Charm of the
Bourgeoisie and That Obscure Object of Desire, it's nevertheless a
fascinating and frequently funny look at life through dream colored glasses.
no plot sketch to take you from point A to point B...rather, it's a series of
stories that have little to no connection to one another, many of which are
abandoned at key points of interest in favor of something new and different.
Bunuel may have been challenging his audience's attention by constantly
pulling the rug out from under them, but he's one of the few directors who could
successfully pull off such a juggling act.
example, the picture opens with the forces of Napoleon in Spain...restless
soldiers are plundering an old Catholic church, where one of them discovers the
chalice of communion wafers and munches on them like a halftime snack.
Then we see the story is being told by a modern French woman, which
segues into a story of a little girl being given some pictures by a stranger,
which eventually shocks her parents...though not for the reasons you might be
there are other memorable bits along the way...an insomniac who actually
receives a letter in a dream, a woman at an inn who prays with some monks for
her father's health, then joins them in a poker game where religious medals are
used instead of chips, a sniper who gets a death sentence but inexplicably walks
free from the courtroom into crowds of autograph seekers, a bizarre affair
between an aunt and her nephew, and a strange off-camera massacre at a zoo.
running theme seems to be turning moral convention on its head...one of the most
striking sequences completely reverses what we do publicly and privately by
showing a gathering at a table where everyone is seated on toilets, presumably
doing their business. One man goes
off to a small private room to have some food.
"Occupied!" he calls out when someone knocks on the door.
perhaps the most remembered sequence is that of two parents trying to find their
missing little girl who is right there with them all the time...the police even
size her up for a description as she obligingly cooperates.
Sometimes parents don't notice what's going on in their kids' lives, but
Bunuel takes it to a strange and amusing new level.
Bunuel and David Lynch are two of cinema's most prolific surrealists, though the
latter uses his style mostly to unsettle, while Bunuel sees comedy in the
absurd. He rarely offers simple,
sane explanations for what he has to show us, whether itís the crowd that
always sits down to dinner but never eats in Discreet Charm, or the fact
that two different actresses exchange playing the same role in Obscure
Phantom Liberty is the great director's most unbridled statement since Un Chein
Andalou...it won't please all audiences, but dedicated cineastes will find
much to delight in.
anamorphic offering from Criterion is mostly striking in detail and color...it's
certainly held up well for a 30 year old film.
Only a few darker moments show some grain and a bit of aging residue on
the print, but for the most part, the tones leap off the screen, and the lines
are crisp and clear with nothing interfering with the viewing pleasure.
mono soundtrack seems generally clean and clear, with French dialogue coming
across in good shape. Not a lot of
dynamic range or music at play, so the overall effect is listenable but not
on the disc are the original trailer and a new video introduction by co-writer
Jean-Claude Carriere. There is also
a nice booklet with a new essay and a reprinted interview with Bunuel.