THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE
Review by Michael Jacobson
Fernando Rey, Carole Bouquet, Angela Molina
Director: Luis Bunuel
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: See Review
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: November 20, 2001
I wait much longer?”
“If I gave you what you want, you’d stop loving me.”
Bunuel was almost 80 years old when he made his final picture, That Obscure
Object of Desire. A prolific
and influential filmmaker, he left behind a body of work that is as enlightening
as it is shadowy, as funny as it is moving, and usually as strange as it is
truthful. His last picture was as
fitting an epitaph as he could have asked for.
is a picture that is simple in narrative yet amazingly complex in its
exploration of that most controlling and damaging of human emotions, desire.
Told largely in flashback form as Mathieu (Rey) explains to fellow
Parisians traveling by train from Seville why he dumped a pail of water on a
girl chasing the train. His story
is more than a bit of entertainment to pass the time…it is a deep and
involving tale of the darker side of love.
object of his desire is made even more obscure by Bunuel by having two different
actresses play her…no explanation. Conchita
(Bouquet and Molina) is a beautiful young woman who torments Mathieu by what he
can only deem a strange duality. She claims to love him, but she won’t surrender her
virginity to him on his terms.
becomes more and more driven by his desire as their relationship unfolds.
He thinks he does the right things by providing her with money, a home,
and comfort, but each time he does, she seems to shrink further from him.
“You don’t love me,” she tells him at one point.
“You love what I won’t give you.”
She asks him to explain why a sexual relationship is so important to him.
His best answer is simply that it is normal, but one can see that any
answer he is capable of giving wouldn’t be right.
film doesn’t really prompt us to choose sides…the ambiguity of both
characters make our point of view constantly switch back and forth.
If we feel Conchita is a merciless tease who enjoys the power she has
over Mathieu at one point, in the next we are wishing that Mathieu would cool
his loins and stop always letting his libido control his emotions.
story culminates in one of the most unforgettable sequences Bunuel ever
created…after buying Conchita a small house, she locks him out with a gate,
rails against him with hateful barbs, and even engages in sex with a younger man
while he can only look on in shock and heartbreak.
Later, she comes to him to explain that it wasn’t as it seemed, and
that she was making one last attempt to reach him on a level other than his
lust, but the embittered Mathieu can only lash out violently.
one is innocent here…the movie doesn’t really judge its characters, but
merely explores desire as a dark and domineering human emotion, and considers
where exactly it might lead if left unchecked.
It’s not a Hollywood movie either, where you can calmly expect one or
more protagonist to end up dead. In
the world of Bunuel, no one gets off that easily.
I simply found myself feeling equal amounts of admiration and disdain for
both Conchita, who won’t give herself away on anyone else’s terms, and for
Mathieu, who can’t seem to stop trying.
managed to restrain himself from his usual touches of surrealism here, save for
one point…the dual actresses in the same role.
Does one represent one side of Conchita while the other represents a
different one? That’s a
possibility, but as I studied the picture, found it too easy an explanation.
Both women are extremely attractive, both are willing to bare all for the
camera, both lead Mathieu on with a coy playfulness and chastise him with a cool
tongue. My best estimation for the real reason? Mathieu becomes so obsessed with the one part of Conchita
that he can’t have, that the rest of the woman becomes interchangeable.
But don’t quote me on that.
somewhat surreal touch is the occasional presence of gang-like terrorists in the
movie. They serve no narrative
purpose, but one can speculate that Bunuel brought them in to punctuate certain
scenes with a bomb blast or gunfire. The
very ending of the film could be considered apocalyptic…or then again, maybe
nothing more than what it seems. At
any rate, it must be concluded that Mathieu and Conchita are not headed toward
an obligatory happy ending.
the best works of Bunuel (and most of his films can be considered his best
works, in my opinion), this is a picture that entertains while you watch, but
gives you plenty of food for thought afterwards. One can only hope that the basest of human emotions won’t
always lead to such moral unraveling and loss of being. Nevertheless, That Obscure Object of Desire was
intended to explore the darker possibilities, and it does so without
reservation. It is a fitting end to
an incredible filmmaking career.
is a beautiful anamorphic transfer from Criterion, framed closer to 1.78:1
rather than the listed 1.66:1. Colors
are natural looking and vibrant throughout, and the print is generally so clean
as to never give away the truth about its age.
Images are sharp and crystal clear throughout. Save for one or two darker scenes, such as the first bedtime
sequence between the leads and a few others that show a bit more print wear and
grain, this is a near flawless offering. Fans
of Bunuel and classic world cinema will be quite thrilled with this effort.
a simple single-channel mono mix, this Dolby Digital track offers some dynamic
range and punch in several spots (the aforementioned terrorist scenes,
especially). Dialogue is clean and
clear throughout, as is the musical score.
An English language track is also included, but the original French audio
is a video interview with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere filmed just last
year at his home…he speaks English and talks extensively about working with
Bunuel. There are some film clips
included. There are also three
scenes from Jacques de Baroncelli’s 1926 silent film La Femme et le Patin
(The Woman and the Puppet, the title of the original novel), which may be
the earliest filmed version of the book. There
is a trailer, and a booklet containing both an essay and a transcript of an
interview with Bunuel.
I’d love to see every last one of Luis Bunuel’s films released on DVD via
the loving hands at Criterion. That
Obscure Object of Desire is a classic film that gets world class treatment,
and joins the likes of Diary of a Chambermaid and The Discreet Charm
of the Bourgeoisie as another terrific across-the-board Bunuel offering from