4 April 2018
The Phantom of Liberty 1975
A Luis Buñuel Film
What a surprise to find the ninth Buñuel film is the best of them all. It is brilliantly conceived and executed and has an overall consistency and control that has not always been as apparent. It’s also his most humorous. I found myself moving between amusement and respect of its never-ending series of wonderfully creative ideas.
I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to watch the last three Buñuel films over a period of four days, to see the creativity still left in this man between the age of seventy-one and seventy-seven. All three were more in the style of The Exterminating Angel, surreal, rather than Belle de jour and Viridiana which were so bleak: both of which had an undercurrent of showing the vicious side of human nature, rather than showing the absurdity of human nature, and laughing at it.
In attempt to differentiate what I saw in those two films, and scenes in L’âge d’or (1930), for instance, where the man and the woman are so full of uncontrollable sexual desire that the woman fellates the toe of a statue’s foot – that’s funny and wicked – but it’s different from the manipulation by men of the female characters in both Belle de jour and Viridiana which was hardly ever amusing and more often sad. Especially the drugging of Viridiana and the control that the man exercised over her. In That Obscure Object of My Desire, it wasn’t so serious when Fernando Rey was constantly manipulated by the girl. He wanted something from her, her virginity, and a series of comic obstacles thwart his desire.
I’m not categorizing them as lesser films, but I am categorizing them as darker films and they were, for me, less enjoyable films.
The ones I really enjoyed of Buñuel’s films were those featuring philosophical ideas or arguments, or pushing against what is perceived by him as normal. When he satirizes God, religion and what the characters think they see, or the control the characters think they have over their environment – those surreal, absurd and more abstract ideas speak to me.
Like the characters caught in a room in The Exterminating Angel, locked into a loop; or the characters in Discreet Charm, forever walking from one failed social situation, together, down an endless road, or Fernando Rey in Obscure Object desiring a young girl he can never have, Buñuel making her reappear throughout his life, just when he’s completely over her, continuing to sexually tease him time after time: they’re all a commentary on how we treat other people whatever our situation or our lot in life. We torment and manipulate people for our own benefit (of which Diary of a Chambermaid  is another good example, but not humorous) and Buñuel loves to illustrate that condition over and over in his films.