Saturday, January 06, 2007

That Obscure Object of Desire

Going in a completely different direction than Sweet Land last night I threw in That Obscure Object of Desire by Luis Bunel. This was the first full length film by Bunel that I sat down to watch and actually the final film that Bunel had made. From what I had heard of Bunel I had expected this to be a lot more nonsensical than it was. It was a rather straightforward if dark and and at times insanely frustrating story.

Mathieu walks into a travel agent and and puchases a train ticket to get back to Paris from Seville. After stopping home he tells his butler to burn a bloody pillowcase and some articles of womens clothing Mathieu goes to the train. He is friendly with those in his train car and eventually goes out to smoke a ciggerrette. Then he spots a woman and talks to a worker on the train. The worker on the train returns with a bucket of water, and when the woman comes to speak to him he dumps the bucket of water on her. Why did he do that, because drenching someone is better than killing them. Those sitting near Mathieu are puzzled why he did this. He explains to them that this woman is the dregs of the earth and goes on to explain why he did this. Matheiu narrates the story on the train and we watch most of the story in flashback.

Truth told there were a few times I was tempted to turn this movie off. I thought towards the beginning it was just more European misoginy posing as art. Conchita is the object of Matheiu's desire and nearly the entirety of the movie is Matheiu's point of view of what has happened leading up to the dumping of the bucket of water. So yes, of course despite Matheiu's best intentions and attempting to care for Cinchita finacially and in in other ways Conchita will not have sex with him, and Matheiu is slowly going crazy.

Conchita here is played by two different actresses (Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina) one French and one Spanish and easily identifiable from one another. On my first viewing I am entirely unsutre why the use of two different actresses to play one woman were neccessary. The Spanish Conchita more often than not was the more sensual one, the more flirtatious one. The French Conchita was warmer, and friendlier perhaps without being sensual, but also was definitely icier than the Spanish conchita as well. I found myself through the a good portion of the movie trying to identify which one was colder, before a sudden shift happened.

I can't place my finger on exactly when, but I found myself at least as disgusted with Matheiu as I did with the women in this film. And as Matheiu is telling the story to his travelling partners on the train, they too take for granted that this woman who was drenched was the "dregs of the earth." But as the movie progresses we see mainly more than anything else Matheiu attempting to buy Conchita's affection. Money, houses, "I'll give you whatever you want he says." And while Conchita continually makes promises to give herself to him at various times throughout the movie Matheiu's sense of entitlement that he feels he has over her seems to always push Conchita away. This is not to say she is entirely innocent. By the end, Conchita and Matheiu are both dispicable characters.

Throughout the film there is also an undercurrent of violence. The emotional violence is always there, and at times this explodes to sexual violence, physical violence, muggings, and terrorist attacks. The film is uncomfortable as it is, with it's starts and stops of affection between the characters and the growing dislike that you manifests itself for each of the characters, and by the end when two absurd moments of violence happen I was confronted with how I felt about these moments if I cared how they affected each character.

On initial viewing the film last night, I really didn't like it. Reading up some essays this morning and other poiints of view and trying to understand where Bunel was coming from I found myself appreciating it more and thinking I may actually have misunderstood it and liked it. While writing this, now I find myself though unable to say I really liked the film. Yes, there is plenty to think about, and it's an exceptionally well done film. And even though at the moment I find myself to be pretty cynical of romantic relations, this was even a bit too much of that vein for my liking. Of course I know I will be discussing this film in the upcoming weeks with some others who have seen it, so perhaps my impression will change.

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