Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Luis Buñuel’s last feature, written and directed by the master, and incorporating possibly the first instance of two actresses playing a single character role, That Obscure Object of Desire from 1977 is a hilarious look at sexual relationships. The male of the species looks pretty bad under the unflattering eye of Buñuel’s camera, and the kicker in this comedy of manners is that much of the humor it it still sticks today.
While boarding a passenger train, wealthy middle-aged gentleman Mathieu (Fernando Rey) is accosted by a young woman Conchita (Carole Bouquet) and when the man dumps a bucket of water on her head everyone wants to know why. Mathieu tells his travelling companions about his hiring of Conchita (Carole Bouquet, and Angela Molina) as a housemaid, being overcome by her beauty and his attempt to make love to her. There is also a terrorist army attacking the city and Mathieu constantly finds himself assaulted by their dangerous presence when gunfire erupts or a bomb explodes. As the story progresses Conchita appears in alternate incarnations and Mathieu alternately confronts each of her in an attempt to consummate their relationship. Conchita agrees to Mathieu’s desires when he buys her a house, and when Mathieu comes to the house the young woman brazenly makes love to a male friend in plain view of the older man. When Mathieu beats up Conchita and leaves her she proclaims that it is proof he loves her and pursues him.
Based on the novel La Femme et le Pantin by Pierre Louys, this is not the first adaptation made for the screen. La Femme et le Pantin was also adapted by Josef von Sternberg in 1935 as the Marlene Dietrich vehicle The Devil Is a Woman, and Julien Duvivier adapted it in 1959 into the film La Femme et le Pantin, with the luminescent Brigitte Bardot in the lead role.
The film is funny, even for American viewers having to read its subtitles. At one point a lawyer friend tells Mathieu that a recent trial of one of the terrorist leaders who were priests got a reduced sentence because he was a member of the R.A.B.J, the “Revolutionary Army for the Baby Jesus”. Later when a small group of thieves robs Mathieu he offers them his entire wallet but the main crook insists on 800 francs, leaving the older man with a quizzical look as he decides against reporting the crime to a policeman casually strolling by.
At another point in the film when Mathieu summons Conchita’s mother Encarnación, played by María Asquerino. Mathieu offers her money so he may see the woman’s daughter, the mother asks if he wants to marry her, and a mouse trap nearby snaps shut on a small grey rodent. It is clear that Luis Buñuel had not lost his incisive sense of humor as he reached his late 70s.
Much has been said about the casting of the film. Fernando Rey as the obsessed Mathieu is perfect as his performance is straight allowing the themes of the film to fully come out I remember the actor when he played the drug czar in The French Connection but this is clearly the typical character he played in his career.
The master stroke was in the dual casting of Carole Bouquet and Ángela Molina as housemaid Conchita. Reportedly this came about from problems the director was having with an actress in the film whose actions were threatening to shut down the picture. As Buñuel and his producer were having a drink in a bar the director suggested casting two actresses for the role of Conchita. The producer saw the idea as genius and the deed was done. This is clearly an example of the collaborative efforts of filmmaking that allow the artistic development to flourish in special ways.
This one will still bring a smile to your face whether you watch it in the original Spanish language, or watch the sub-titles. There is also a nice addition of features on the DVD for the history buffs.
Read all 4 Reviews
Write a Review
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age