We’re kicking off this year’s Blind Spot Series with Cet Obscur Objet du Désir, or That Obscure Object of Desire – Luis Buñuel’s last film, released in 1977. This Spanish director has been a personal favourite ever since I saw El Ángel Exterminador (1962), a few years ago. His movies are sometimes baffling, often shocking, and always controversial.
That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) was all three and, quite literally, Buñuel’s last say on one of his most recurring themes: lust. It begins on a train station in Seville where, from a departing train, a middle-aged man (played by Fernando Rey) dumps a full bucket of water on a young woman’s head. He goes to his seat, and when the other people in the cabin seem curious about why he drenched the woman, he proceeds to tell his story.
That Obscure Object
of Desire (1977)
Directed by LUIS BUÑUEL
Written by LUIS BUÑUEL, JEAN-ClAUDE CARRIÈRE and PIERRE LOUYËS
Starring FERNANDO REY, CAROLE BOUQUET and ÁNGELA MOLINA
Running Time: 1h43 min
Genre: DRAMA, COMEDY
The story of how he fell in love with one of his new maids, the eighteen year old Conchita. Of how, try as he might to convince her, to push her, the virginal and ever teasing Conchita simply would not sleep with him. How she used him, deceived him, frustrated him.
Rey’s Mathieu is both narrator and character, as the action onscreen alternates between flashbacks and his storytelling on the train. He’s antiquated, insecure, weak, and misogynistic. He’s not a lovable character, and neither is she.
Conchita is played by two different actresses, which gives her character a elusive duplicity: she is elegant and cold in the hands of French actress Carole Bouquet, exotic and volatile when portrayed by Spanish actress Ángela Molina. The sorting of scenes between them may very well be arbitrary, but the result is no less startling.
As is the showing of escalating terrorist attacks, all comically ignored by Mathieu until he is caught in one of them – the screen engulfed in violent flames, the character’s fate unknown; that is the very last shot, of the very last movie from Luis Buñuel.
After what happened last night, I came to see if you were dead. Already cold. I thought you loved me enough to go off and kill yourself.— CAROLE BOUQUET as CONCHITA in CET OBSCUR OBJET DU DÉSIR (1977)
Indeed, comedy and drama walk hand in hand in That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). Mathieu’s sexual frustration from Conchita’s refusals is painful for him, but we can’t help but laugh at his despair upon finding her wearing straitjacket type underwear, and actually tearing up when he can’t take it off of her.
Later on, the film does takes a darker turn as Mathieu’s patience wears thin and Conchita’s true (?) nature is revealed. But only enough to shake you, before defaulting back to the absurd and the confounding.
You never quite know where you stand with Buñuel’s films, and that’s one of the reasons I enjoy watching them so much. It’s never clear wether something is accidental or intentional, wether a specific detail is symbolic or meaningless. But it sure is fun trying to figure it out.