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That Obscure Object of Desire(1977)
Recounted in flashback to a group of railway travellers, the story wryly details the romantic perils of Mathieu, a wealthy middle-aged French sophisticate who falls desperately in love with his 19-year-old former chambermaid Conchita. Thus begins a surreal game of sexual cat-and-mouse, with Mathieu obsessively attempting to win the girl's affections as she manipulates his carnal desires, each vying to gain absolute control of the other. Brimming with a subversive wit, That Obscure Object of Desire takes satiric aim at a decadent, decaying society riddled with political unrest and moral bankruptcy.
For more about That Obscure Object of Desire and the That Obscure Object of Desire Blu-ray release, see That Obscure Object of Desire Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on January 27, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Carole Bouquet, Fernando Rey, Angela Molina
Director: Luis Buñuel
» See full cast & crew
That Obscure Object of Desire Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, January 27, 2013
There must be some kind of unspoken transition we all go through when suddenly at a predetermined age we all turn into Grandpa Simpson and start saying things like, "Well, back in my day. . .", followed by some interminable anecdote about how things were when we were young. I fear that I'm about to make that transition, if I haven't already, for as I watched That Obscure Object of Desire, I was suddenly transported back to my college days and my Film Theory class, when I was introduced to a number of classic films and filmmakers, including Luis Buñuel. Now this may come as something of a shock to those of you under 30 or so, but this was in a time before there was much of an internet, no home video to speak of, and no way to readily see international films other than in so called Art Houses. The reason this seems relevant to me as I reconsider That Obscure Object of Desire now after more years than I care to admit is that part of the allure of seeing films like this one back in my veritable youth was how exotic the experience seemed, how unlike anything I was used to seeing in American films of that day or, frankly, even the Golden Age of Hollywood. This now legendary artist's approach seemed particularly distinctive to someone who had grown up on cornfed Hollywood hokum for most of his life, especially with regard to some of Buñuel's earliest opuses like Un Chien Andalou. Buñuel had rather radically altered his original surrealist or Dadaist film language by the time he made That Obscure Object of Desire (his final film), intimating rather than depicting any overt surreal content in such still daring conceits as having two different actresses play the same role. The film on its surface seems to be the very model of an almost standardized narrative form, but that's part of the genius of Buñuel. Dancing just beneath the surface of this supposed star-crossed love story mixed into a rather frighteningly prescient tale of terrorists wreaking havoc in modern day life is a veritable gamut of discomfiting content that works almost subliminally at times to subvert the ostensible story that's being told.
Buñuel's characters are often effete snobs who drift through their lives in complacent luxury, never fully cognizant of what's going on around them (one of the best examples in this regard is in Buñuel's Oscar winning The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeousie, which hopefully will be coming out domestically on Blu-ray sooner rather than later). That's much the case here as well, with focal character Mathieu (Fernando Rey), the always nattily dressed and impeccably polite aristocrat who spends the bulk of the film relaying a convoluted story to his fellow train passengers which he hopes will explain why he has just poured a bucket of water over the head of an attractive (if somewhat beat up) young woman at the train station.
There's a slightly (and no doubt intentionally) tawdry side to the basic setup in That Obscure Object of Desire, when the wealthy Don Mathieu starts to lust after his chambermaid Conchita (played by both Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina in one of the film's most startling conceits). Watching this perfectly put together middle aged man start to unravel, emotionally if not physically, at the mere thought of Conchita is, however, a prime example of how Buñuel often seems to actually delight in the foibles of the privileged class. Mathieu can't have Conchita, and that only makes him all the more determined to get her. It's the classic, almost Biblical, story of "forbidden fruit", but in Buñuel's formulation the story is equal parts comedy and tragedy.
The film is almost in its own demented way a romantic precursor to Groundhog Day where over and over Mathieu thinks he has Conchita within his grasp—and, frankly, actually does seem to—only to have the possibility jerked away from him without mercy. This creates both fertile fodder for humor but also tinges this film with a certain bittersweet quality, even given some of the kind of unseemly aspects to Mathieu's character and behavior. (There's a flat out shocking scene late in the film that reveals while Conchita has appeared to be so disheveled and bruised at the train station.)
Within this mad kaleidoscope of love almost consummated only to be literally doused in cold water are a number of typical Buñuel touches. Why have two actresses playing the same role. Is this just another example of Buñuel the trickster? Well, that's probably part of it, but there's also a more perhaps mundane, which is not to say unmeaningful, reason. Mathieu is a man lost in the fantasy of what he thinks Conchita could be for him. As anyone who has ever fantasized about a romantic conquest knows, it's an often amorphous longing, and that may be the more salient reason for this odd casting decision. The film's title hints about this as well, for the object of desire is obscure. (There may have been a more pedestrian reason for this casting gambit, as is made clear in some of the featurettes regarding the departure of Maria Schneider.)
And then there's the patently odd element of the terrorism. Why does Buñuel interrupt this already peculiar romantic fantasy with sudden bursts of violence? As Mathieu and Conchita continue their often ridiculous dance of attraction and repulsion, mayhem seems to be a phantom threat that may not have a direct relationship to the focal pair (or trio), but which intrudes on their life in unexpected ways. Maybe Buñuel is simply stating the obvious fact that it's folly to waste time on an impossible dream when a dastardly reality may explode at any given moment.
That Obscure Object of Desire Blu-ray, Video Quality
That Obscure Object of Desire is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Studio Canal and Lionsgate Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.67:1. This appears to be the same transfer that was released in Britain last year. The elements herr are in surprisingly good condition, with nary a scratch or blemish dotting the proceedings. The image is often startlingly clear and well defined though admittedly there isn't the eye popping fine detail that informs many high definition presentations. The most niggling concern here may well be the slightly pallid palette, though it's actually quite accurate to the original look of the film. There are also slight density issues and registration differences which are noticeable but not extremely distracting. Overall, this is a very nice looking transfer that retains a nicely filmlike appearance without any egregious digital tweaking of any kind.
That Obscure Object of Desire Blu-ray, Audio Quality
That Obscure Object of Desire features lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes in both the original French as well as an English dub. The English dub is noticeably less aggressive and more boxy sounding than the French track, so even those who prefer not to read subtitles will probably want to stick with the original language. This is not an overly dynamic track, and it's obvious that quite a bit of the film was post-looped, leading to occasional synchronization issues, but dialogue remains very clearly and cleanly presented. The track is quite narrow, and dynamic range is also fairly limited, though there are occasional gunshots and a couple of explosions courtesy of the terrorists.
That Obscure Object of Desire Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
That Obscure Object of Desire Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
That Obscure Object of Desire features Buñuel's typically dry and very piquant sense of humor. The film's strangely nonplussed air takes a bit of getting used to, especially when so much passionate behavior, both romantic and terrorist, is on display, but that dialectic is part of this legendary writer-director's approach. This new Blu-ray features excellent video and good audio, with some superlative supplementary material. Highly recommended.
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That Obscure Object of Desire Blu-ray, News and Updates
• That Obscure Object of Desire Blu-ray - November 5, 2012
Lionsgate Films have officially announced that they will release on Blu-ray director Luis Bunuel's That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), starring Fernando Rey, Carole Bouquet and Ángela Molina. The release will be available for purchase on January 29th.
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