Even More Bunuel, That Obscure Object Of Desire

Written by Joe D on September 26th, 2007

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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).
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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.
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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.

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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.

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Gotcha!

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.

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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

13 Comments so far ↓

  1. Sep
    28
    12:24
    AM
    Cinebeats

    Terrific post Joe! That Obscure Object Of Desire is the first full-length Bunuel film I saw about 15 or so years ago and a lot of the shots and bits of the story remain very vivid in my minds eye. It’s a great film and the ending is very memorable. The ambiguity is what really appeals to me in Bunuel’s work, as well as a lot of the imagery.

  2. Sep
    28
    12:50
    AM
    admin

    Thank You Kimberly. This Bunuel Blogathon has really got me reminiscing about how great the old Surrealist Maestro really was. His films were so Cinematic but not in the usual sense, more the story , acting, atmosphere than the actual filmic technique.

  3. Sep
    29
    5:54
    AM
    filomeno

    Fernando Rey, Spanish Gentleman

  4. Sep
    29
    1:43
    PM
    admin

    Un gran cabellero! Un agente brillante!

  5. Oct
    4
    3:48
    AM
    Gary King

    Thanks Joe!! Great review and examination!! The film’s ending is what sticks with me to this day.

    I think I’m going to have to pull my DVD out now and watch it again.

  6. Apr
    12
    12:42
    AM
    moineau

    just finished the film for the second time and decided to google the title. such a great post in which you immediately go for their “dance” or complicity rather than focusing on some perceived “war between the sexes”. your take on what makes a great film ending won me over, something i haven’t considered in its own right for some time.

    bravo for a great critique. film is something for which i am so grateful. i’ve been retired due to disability for over 10 years, and viewing and reviewing great films has saved my life from misery and boredom. vive le cinĂ©.

    yours warmly ~laura tattoo

  7. Apr
    12
    3:23
    AM
    Ian

    I found the film irritating and pointless. I had a hard time accepting the two acresses playing the same role. It’s funny how, once an artist has established himself as a big name, has so many cronies explaining everything he does. Would you have been so blown away by his brilliance if he wasn’t an already known director?

  8. Apr
    12
    7:04
    AM
    Joe D

    Laura
    Cinema is a ship that takes us to unreachable, unknowable ports of call (when it’s good that is).

    Ian
    I see your point, popular opinion follows pre-approved guidelines usually based on commerce. Moby Dick wasn’t recognized as a masterpiece until years after Melville was dead. But I disagree regarding this particular film.

  9. Feb
    5
    11:08
    AM
    Cridick # 2

    This is so stupid!Who ever did this should be ashamed of themselves! Danielle Age:7

  10. Dec
    14
    5:15
    PM
    Emily

    Wtf?Your 7 years old!! You wouldn’t even undertand this movie. Do you know what ashamed means?

  11. Dec
    14
    7:47
    PM
    Joe D

    Dear Emily
    Learn to spell before ranting and raving.

  12. Nov
    16
    5:59
    AM
    Roberta

    The “symbolic” bloody sheet scene at the end, simply represents the sheet on which Conchita loses her virginity to Mateo… His ultimate conquest! He is hypnotized seeing a woman in a window trying to sew it back together … signifying sewing Conchita’s hymen back together. Conchita becomes irate realizing this “war” between them will start all over again. Bomb: end of a relationship.

  13. Nov
    16
    11:57
    AM
    Joe D

    The power of this ending is that it allows people to project whatever interpretation they like on to it, ambiguity is a large part of Bunuel’s artistic arsenal. I think your analysis is great maybe it is what Bunuel had in mind consciously or unconsciously.

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