Due to popular demand the Bunuel Blogathon continues with That Obscure Object Of Desire, Bunuels final film. Loosely based on a novel from 1898, The Woman And The Puppet which had already reached the screen in several incarnations, That Obscure Object Of Desire tells the ageless story of an older man (Fernando Rey) led on by a much younger woman (Angela Molina, Carole Bouquet).
The old rake tempted by the seductress keeps coming back for more punishment like the Puppet in the novel’s title or like Charlie Brown always talked into trying to kick the football Lucy holds for him only to have it yanked away at the last second leading to his flying through the air and crashing to the ground. It’s like an eternal cycle, The Woman tempts the Man, he gives in to her demands with the understanding that she will sleep with him, not only does she not sleep with him she dances naked at a tourist strip bar, has sex with a younger man right in front of him, wears a chastity belt to bed with him, generally frustrates, humiliates and drives him crazy. He runs off vowing to never see her again. But she pursues him and like a Pavlovian Dog, he goes for it again.
Good Luck With That!
They both cannot stop the cycle they are in. Like the mating dance of exotic birds they find themselves locked in this pas a deux time and again. Bunuel also throws a little subversive twist on the story by having two actresses play the part of Conchita. Is one the good girl and the other the bad, is this a comment on the duality of this woman? Maybe on the menstrual cycle and it’s effects on a woman’s personality? Or is it just Bunuel’s sense of humor, “Let the critics figure it out” Whatever the reason it works beautifully and like many Bunuelian masterstrokes inexplicably.
Care to Try Again? Come on!
The story I heard about the dual casting was this. Maria Schnieder was originally cast to play the part, maybe because of the extreme reaction to Last Tango In Paris she suddenly refused to appear nude in the film. I understand she was almost psychotic after Tango and you can see why. In any case Bunuel met with Silberman and they were about to call off the project entirely when inspiration struck. “I’ll have two women play the part of Conchita!” I don’t know why this solved the problem but it did and the film went on as scheduled.
As usual this film is rich with original ideas, jokes, images as for example Mathieu telling the story of his relationship with Conchita on a train, to a dwarf who just happens to be a psychologist, the misogynistic man servant, doesn’t every guy who has been mistreated by a woman have a friend that advises him to dump her or beat her or something like that and to make it Mathieu’s servant is a funny play on class distinctions.
Strangers On A Train
But my favorite part of the movie is the end. Bunuel always has great endings to his films, I think of all filmmakers he really understood the power, the mysticism of the end of a film. You can do anything at the end of a play or a film because it’s over right after that. The audience must leave the theater, walk out into the sunlight, decompress back to reality. You don’t have to explain or follow through on what you do, it’s over. The Greeks understood this in their plays with the deus ex machina and Bunuel understood it better than any other filmmaker. So after exiting the train, Mathieu and Conchita stroll down a street in a big city, it’s semi-deserted, terrorists are planning a coordinated attack. They notice a woman in a shop window sitting in a chair darning a white lace mantilla that’s stained with blood. I don’t know why but something about this image is so powerful I am always moved by it. Maybe because Bunuel was able to realize an image directly from his subconscious, undiluted, unquestioned with the conviction only a Surrealist could have, is it so effective. Just after this during an argument our protagonists are blown to bits. THE END.
Trailer For That Obscure Object Of Desire