director Luis Buñuel
Luis Buñuel’s final film, That Obscure Object of Desire was adapted from Pierre Louys’ 1898 novel La Femme et le Pantin, a novel which had been adapted before by Josef von Sternberg as The Devil Is a Woman (1935) and then by Julien Duviver under its original title. Though I’ve never seen either of those film versions nor read the novel, it seems clear that That Obscure Object of Desire is an entirely Buñuelian picture, no matter the source material or other interpretations.
It’s the kind of story that on the surface could be entirely problematic pretty easily. It’s the story of an older well-to-do man (Fernando Rey) falling for a young not-so-well-to-do young beauty (a girl named Conchita who is played alternatively by two actresses Carole Bouquet and Ángela Molina at different points). Conchita is a consummate tease, leading him on, and then abandoning him, at times on moral grounds, at others as an intentional act of torment.
Instead of becoming some reductive power game fantasy, or even being a harsh skewering of the rich and privileged, it’s a nuanced and odd and inscrutable thing. The story is layered within a retelling through flashbacks, retold for an audience, mixing titillation and comeuppance in contrast with any overt moralizing. A subtext of random terrorist attacks (interestingly quite a contrast to our present day perceptions of terrorism) adds a layer of further oddity that extends the film further in its obscuring its objects.
Luis Buñuel’s genius is as sharp and provocative and masterful as ever. Late films for major directors often seem compromised works in one or many ways, but I don’t think that can or should be said at all about That Obscure Object of Desire. Its complexity and vision are as rich and keen as could be. I find myself more and more compelled by Buñuel with every picture of his I see.