That Obscure Object of Desire

That Obscure Object of Desire


Reviewed by: Robert Munro

The final film of legendary modernist rogue Luis Bunuel’s career, That Obscure Object of Desire, is concerned with the themes which mark him out as one of the cinema’s greatest inventors: violence, romance and absurdity abound in this tale of obsession and madness.

Wealthy aristocratic Mathieu (Fernando Rey) falls for Conchita (Carole Bouquet & Ángela Molina), a beautiful new chambermaid working at his home. He quickly becomes obsessed by this enchanting part-Spanish, part-French woman who is also half his age. Barely able to repress his desires and urges, his infatuation drives Conchita away time and time again. However, a series of coincidences reunite their paths each time.

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Bunuel’s eye for the absurd and ear for the driest of witty dialogue keeps the pace up, even if the to-and-fro of their would-be relationship verges on the edge of tiresome. Mathieu regales the passengers of a train compartment with the history of their relationship, after the bemused passengers ask him why he threw a bucket of water from the train over poor Conchita, as she stood helpless on the platform.

Throughout the tortured romance between the two, absurdist undercurrents swell to the surface frequently in order to remind us that this is no straightforward tale of obsessive romance. Mathieu seems troubled by dead rodents and insects - his house is infested with mice; a dead fly appears unexpectedly in his drink. There are repeated terrorist attacks which punch into the narrative violently and unapologetically. And, perhaps strangest of all, Conchita is played by two different actresses who seem to swap into the role at random.

Do the two women represent different sides of Conchita, or represent the variety of female emotions and passions - it is true that Conchita is flirtatious one minute, and positively repulsed the next – or, is Bunuel just having some fun? Probably the latter: there never seems to be much of a coherent chronology to the appearance of either Bouquet or Molina as Conchita, with the two even swapping roles within the same scene.

Funny, bewildering and occasionally slightly frustrating, The Obscure Object of Desire is everything you would expect from Bunuel. Towards the end of the film – and the train journey – Conchita bursts into the compartment, with a bucket of water to hand no less. The bucket is promptly dispatched over Mathieu’s head, leaving him sodden and running after her all over again. He’s trying to pin her down, much as Bunuel spent much of his career trying to pin down the peculiarities of human behaviour. Much like we try to pin down the eccentricities of the film. But it’s an enjoyable journey for all that.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2012
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A man regales passengers on a train with the story of his frustrated romance with the enchanting Conchita.
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Director: Luis Buñuel

Writer: Luis Buñuel, Jean-Claude Carrière, Pierre Louÿs

Starring: Fernando Rey, Carole Bouquet, Ángela Molina, Julien Bertheau, André Weber, Milena Vukotic.

Year: 1977

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France, Spain


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