That Obscure Object of Desire Blu-ray
Feb 06, 2013 Web Exclusive
The first thing you'll probably notice about Luis Buñuel's final masterpiece, That Obscure Object of Desire, is that the female lead, Conchita, is interchangeably played by two actresses-Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina. For a director known for pushing the envelope both stylistically and thematically for nearly half a century, this contrivance was something new even for Buñuel. The fact that it wasn't his original plan for the film only makes the choice even more mysterious; hot off Antonioni's The Passenger, Maria Schneider was originally cast in the role but canned when Buñuel felt she was an inadequate fit after a week's worth of shooting. The rest, as they say, is history.
Buñuel regular Fernando Rey stars as Mathieu, a well-off Frenchman living in Paris who the audience meets rather dubiously at a train station in Seville, Spain. Mathieu boards a train whereupon he pours a bucket of water on a younger woman as she tries to hop on. She pleads with him for forgiveness but his stern look implies that his patience has been tested one too many times. He sits in the compartment with his fellow travelers as they logically ask him about the incident. She is 'the foulest woman who ever lived," says Mathieu. "My only consolation is knowing that God will not forgive her." Thereafter Buñuel employs flashback as the prominent framing device for the film, and Mathieu relays the tempestuous history the two have shared.
Mathieu meets Conchita organically while she works as the maid at the house of one of his closest friends. He becomes immediately infatuated with her youthful beauty. Rebuffing his advances, Conchita leaves her job and disappears without a trace. Yet Mathieu comes upon Conchita at a restaurant and from that moment the two begin a most impressively dysfunctional relationship. The remainder of the film proceeds as somewhat of a cat and mouse game as Mathieu relentlessly pursues Conchita despite (or perhaps because of) her coyly affectionate posturing.
The actual story contained in Desire is rather scant, but in true Buñuel fashion the film becomes prime fodder for cinematic theory due to its formalistic maneuverings. Conchita is played in equal measure by two different actresses, the first time this technique was employed by such a well-regarded director, and as a gesture that makes examining the film an entirely different proposition than it would have been otherwise. Mathieu lusts after Conchita yet she repeatedly blocks his advances, just enough to keep him interested but not enough to thwart his interest altogether. It becomes increasingly clear that Mathieu's patriarchal ideals regarding the dynamics between men and women is something on which Buñuel wants to comment. During one of the contemporaneous scenes in which Mathieu relates the story, a member of his audience, a psychology professor no less, proclaims, "at the subconscious level there's no such thing as chance." In just this one sentence Buñuel's entirely philosophy on Mathieu's incredible lack of self-awareness becomes clear: Mathieu probably wants the best of both worlds, the virgin and the whore, but is woefully ignorant of the fact that these two traits are not mutually exclusive.
In addition to an incredible restoration of the film, Studiocanal has culled a feast of extra features that would be an invaluable bonus to any Buñuel fan. Fellow filmmaker and longtime friend of Buñuel, Carlos Saura, speaks poetically about their friendship and Buñuel's rigorous, "ascetic" commitment to pushing the boundaries of cinematic convention. In a feature entitled "Arbitrary Desire," Jean-Claude Carriere, with whom Buñuel collaborated on Desire, waxes poetic about the director's restless pursuit of ingenuity during the making of the film. And in "Double Dames," the two actresses who played Conchita, Angela Molina and Carole Bouquet, recount their experiences working with Buñuel, his mentorship to their creative process, and the formative nature of working with such a genius at such a young stage in their career. (www.studiocanal.co.uk)
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