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The Criterion Collection presents
That Obscure Object of Desire (Cet obscur objet du désir) (1977)

"Nothing can come between us now."
- Conchita Perez (Carole Bouquet)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: November 20, 2001

Stars: Fernando Rey, Carole Bouquet, Àngela Molina
Other Stars: Julien Bertheau, André Weber, Milena Vukotic, Marìa Asquerino, Ellen Bahl, Valerie Blanco, Auguste Carrière, Jacques Debary, Antonio Duque, André Lacombe, Lita Lluch-Peiro, Annie Monange, Jean-Claude Montalban, Muni, Bernard Musson
Director: Luis Buñuel

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for (nudity, adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:45m:01s
Release Date: November 20, 2001
UPC: 037429162026
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Spanish born director Luis Buñuel's first two films were made with his friend, painter Salvador Dalí: the short subject, Un Chien Andalou (1928), with its shocking imagery, initiated him into the Surrealist Group, and L'Age d'Or (1930), which was the first in a long line of anti-religious and anti-middle class themes he would employ throughout his career. His surrealist leanings were present from the onset, and considering his choice of collaborators, not surprising. After a 15 year hiatus from film and relocating to Mexico, Buñuel began directing features. He returned to Spain in 1961 at the invitation of General Franco, who was looking to support native artisans as a PR gesture. With typically Buñuelian respect for irony, his first effort, Viridiana, was banned as blasphemous in Spain, yet won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and united him with actor Fernando Rey, who would become a familiar face in Buñuel's later work. His style and subject matter took their rightful place among the great works of cinema when he began a series of French productions, opening with 1964's Diary Of A Chambermaid, which also led to a collaboration with producer Serge Silberman and writer Jean-Claude Carri è re that would see seven features produced as a result—each purportedly to be Buñuel's last. Belle du Jour and The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgouisie were among these, and when Buñuel finally hung up his lupe at age 80, his final film would be one to remember, Cet obscur objet du désir, or in English, That Obscure Object of Desire.

The story was based on the Pierre LouØs novel, La Femme et le pantin, a script that Buñuel had attempted decades before without success. With Rey back once again in the lead role as Mathieu Faber, Buñuel pulled a stunt few directors could get away with—casting two very different leading ladies in the same part. Sharing the character of Conchita Perez, Rey's love interest and antagonist, are Carole Bouquet—a very decidedly French actress—and the very Spanish Á ngela Molina. While many would like to credit this to Buñuel's sense of surrealism, the move was one of necessity; his initial part casting was a disaster (Maria Schneider of Last Tango In Paris, who couldn't come to terms with her character and quit). In order to save the production, he made an offhand comment to producer Serge Silberman that he should cast two women for the role—Silberman agreed. After initially contemplating dividing screen time by the mood of the character, eventually the decision was somewhat arbitrary, ensuring both actresses got equal exposure.

After pouring a bucket of water over the head of a young girl at the train station as he prepares to depart, Mathieu (Mateo in the subtitles) is obligated to tell the story that justifies his most recent actions to those in his travelling compartment. He begins the tale of the young girl who would become the object of his desire. His captive audience of strangers is introduced to Conchita, the young housemaid who refuses Mathieu's advances, then disappears without a trace. He tracks her down at her mother's home, where he learns that her family is destitute after her father's death. Wealth is something Mathieu has plenty of, and so begins his pursuit, offering money and lodging, but his missteps cost him dearly, both financially and through his bruised ego. However, Mathieu is completely unable to understand the woman he is after, which causes him to repeatedly gain his reward through underhanded means. Conchita pledges to conceed to his desires, but in offering to satiate them, also sets him up to offend her, and thus, she disappears once again. His inability or refusal to relate to her on equal terms ends in the same result, time after time. His frustration is furthered with each rejection, despite continuing promises to allow him to "take her virginity." One humiliation after another, his resolve grows stronger, his obsession unbearable—but when has he gone too far?

Told through a series of flashbacks, those familiar with Buñuel will find several familiar themes in That Obscure Object of Desire: a quest that is never achieved, an undercurrent of terrorist attacks, and some enigmatic objects which are never explained. These add to the disorienting atmosphere created by the duality of his female couterpart. The device works however, to present the different personalities his would-be lover possesses, though both women have an unpredictability about them that baffles their pursuer, and their audience. If you are looking for a film that neatly wraps everything up in the end, then you need look elsewhere, as a big part of this film's charm are the questions it raises as the curtains close. Filled with caustic wit and Buñuel's twisted sense of irony, That Obscure Object of Desire showcases a superb cast, leading us down the garden path with careful exposition, always leaving the possibilities open, which makes the results all that more confusing—a device that both engages the audience and reflects his main character's reaction to the inexplicable behavior of the young woman he fancies. It is this lack of understanding that is key to the film, from why terrorist attacks seem to be popping up everywhere, to why Conchita is hesitant to consumate the relationship with Mathieu. Dosed with healthy amount of the absurd, That Obscure Object of Desire is required viewing for any Buñuel fan, and despite its leanings into the abstract, is one of the director's more accessable films.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic image is, for the most part, extremely clean and well presented. Fine grain is well rendered, and the 1970s color palatte is maintained throughout with good contrast and black levels. No compression issues to speak of, but a little bit of aliasing in places. This is a great looking transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrench, Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Mono audio is clear and free of any technical flaws. Sounds and dialogue are well separated and distinct. Frequency coverage is limited only in the extremes, and there is no harshness of brittleness to the soundtrack. The frantic flamenco sections are full and pleasing. A nice presentation.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Video interview with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrire
  2. Excerpt from Le Femme Et Le Pantin
Extras Review: Two major extras sections are contaned here, the first centering around writer and long time Buñuel collaborator, Jean-Claude Carri è re. An on-camera interview from 2000 covers many aspects of his work methodology with Buñuel: their story and script writing, his style of direction, and the films that they worked on. A bibliography of the writer's work is also presented in a short essay.

The second area features comparisons from Jacques de Baroncelli's 1929 silent film, La Femme et le pantin, one of six film adaptations of Pierre LouØs' novel, on which That Obscure Object of Desire was also based. Three excerpts are featured, which provide an interesting contrast to Buñuel's version. The corresponding text from LouØs' novel is also provided for comparison.

The film's theatrical trailer is also included, as is an essay on the film and a reprint of an interview with Buñuel and José De La Colina in the enclosed 16 page booklet. This debunks a lot of the myths surrounding elements of the film.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Buñuel fans are rewarded once more with another superb presentation from Criterion. As the director's final masterpiece, That Obscure Object of Desire fulfills all expectations for a strange and provocative tale of obsession and its unpredictable results. A superb cast, excellent script and genius from the director make this brilliantly mindbending farce a joy to experience. Served up with a collection of useful supplements, this nicely compliments Criterion's other titles from the director. For those looking to experiment with foreign film, this one is sure to be an eye-opening experience: the last laugh is on the audience.


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