Monday, March 7, 2011

#143: That Obscure Object of Desire

(Luis Buñuel, 1977)

Though it was pure coincidence that I viewed them back to back, Bad Timing and That Obscure Object of Desire make for a pretty cohesive double feature. The final Buñuel film in the collection chronologically (and his final film before his death), That Obscure Object of Desire is a fitting end in that it sums up many of the themes Buñuel had explored, particularly in the latter half of his fifty-year career. But it's also a pitch black comedy of manners, and - like Bad Timing, made three years later - a deeply cynical film about the power struggle between the male desire of possession and the female desire for individuality.

The film is (very loosely) adapted from a heralded book that was often the source material for films, Le Femme et le Pantin, about a sophisticated gentleman who falls in love with a woman and sacrifices everything for her to be his. Buñuel shifts so much around (and heavily infuses his film with an anarchic spirit carried along by the random acts of terrorism sprinkled throughout) that the movie is much more of an enigma than this set-up might have you believe. In the end, is the man being tortured, teased, and prodded by his object of desire, or is the woman constantly struggling to force him to see her as her own person?

Buñuel makes his film so oblique that I honestly don't know if this confusion was intended or not. The rest of the film is equally unattainable. The titular object is played by two separate women (and dubbed by a third), both of whom come and go in random succession, with no explanation.The film's prologue and narrative framing seems almost totally irrelevant, except to place the viewer's sympathies with the male protagonist from the beginning.

There are so many Buñuelian elements to the film that it seems silly to list them all: maids, bourgeois, food, etc. are all present. The movie is so much about Buñuel's movies that it's unclear to me whether the terrorists are terrorizing the world of the film or the film itself. Moving through Buñuel's films has certainly given me a stronger affection for his sensibilities, but That Obscure Object of Desire reminded me that he can often seek to normalize his own hang ups, which makes me feel alienated from some of his production, including this final movie, where everything goes up in smoke anyway.

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