That Obscure Object of My Desire 1977
A Luis Bunuel Film
Aged 77, Bunuel made his last film, a delightful comedy drama with Fernando Rey and the beautiful actress Carole Bouquet (who a few years later became a Bond girl and suffered the fate of most). Confusingly, if watching the film without any warning, in some scenes, Conchita is played in some scenes by Carole Bouquet and in other scenes by Angela Molina. Bunuel is attributed the following explanation in his biography: the film was in danger of being cancelled after a dispute with an actress and he amusingly suggested he could shoot the role with two different actresses playing the role. The producer liked the idea so that’s what Bunuel did. It wasn’t how he conceived the role of Conchita, to show different parts of her personality, as some have claimed, but as a solution to a problem. In the end, the scenes with the original actress were removed but two actresses did play the one part.
To see it unfold as the film develops is kind of surreal. How appropriate that the man most associated with surrealism in filmmaking should invent an idea of such surreal proportions, accidentally, after shooting had commenced. It is breathtaking in its boldness. Like David Lynch did in Lost Highway, but done twenty years before.
The film begins with a sixty-year old (but looking older) man dumping a bucket of water on a young woman from a train carriage as the train leaves the station. The people travelling in his compartment are interested to know why he would do such a thing and the episodes of several different encounters with this woman, Conchita, are show in flashback.
Conchita is headstrong, wilful, beautiful, frustrating and a complete sexual tease, driving Mathieu crazy with sexual desire, rebuffing her again and again. How much she leads him on and how much he allows himself to be led is debatable because every time they separate, the next time they meet he desires her all over again.
The film won Bunuel a number of awards as either writer, or director, or both. It’s one his most charming films, certainly one of his most sexual, and the object of desire could mistakenly be thought to be Conchita. In fact, it is her vagina he desires and by withholding access to it, she maintains his desire over a lengthy period of time.
There is a side story about revolutionaries. The irony of the revolution is that a bomb ends up ending the lives of Mathieu and Conchita before he has successfully found the object and satisfied his desire. It’s not that he has found the object, or that he doesn’t know where it is, or that it is even obscure – it’s more about being constantly in a situation where is never allowed to access it, no matter how hard he tries.
A lovely, beautiful, tantalizing, meditation about wanting something that is close enough to smell but may always be beyond one’s reach. What a film to end Bunuel’s career as a director.
Deputy editor of Total Film, Jamie Graham was one of three critics who voted this Bunuel film into his Top Ten. Graham included a Hitchcock (Vertigo), Bergman (Persona), Welles (Citizen Kane), Melville (Army of Shadows), Dreyer (Passion of Joan), Ozu (Tokyo Story), Woody Allen (Manhattan), Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and Rob Reiner (Stand by Me) film.
Director of Leaving Las Vegas and Stormy Monday, Mike Figgis, was one of two directors who put this in their Top Ten, along with Godard (Week End), Penn (Bonnie and Clyde), Boorman (Deliverance), Fellini (La dolce vita), Cassavetes (Opening Night), Truffaut (The Woman Next Door), Vinterberg (Festen), Vilgot Sjöman (I Am Curious Yellow). The other one in common: Bergman (Persona).