Reading the description of a film–and I’m not just talking the marketing spin, but even an honest informative blurb–oftentimes results in false preconceptions about a movie. That Obscure Object of Desire is just such a film. “Consumed by his obsessive desire to possess her, his feelings progressively change from overflowing passion to a self-destructive hatred,” inspires visions in tone (if not in content) along the lines of Fatal Attraction. Not so.
That having been said, such preconceptions did not destroy my enjoyment of the film at all.
Luis Buñuel’s final film stars Fernando Rey as Mathieu Faber, a wealthy older gentleman on a train ride from Seville to Paris. Just as the train is about to leave, a woman, Conchita (at the moment, Carole Bouquet…but also alternately Angela Molina) appears on the platform. Mathieu dumps a pail of water over her. Mathieu then embarks on a tale of woe to his compartment mates to explain why he took such drastic action, how he fell for this woman who was alternately hot and cold, loving and downright nasty toward him. Yet regardless of how often or in what manner Conchita leads Mathieu on, he is never able to reject her for long, sinking further into frustration and obsession as he himself tries to gain control in the relationship, turning their cat-and-mouse play into a competition…and that obsession continues when Conchita once again finds him escaping on the train.
What stands out more than anything else about That Obscure Object of Desire is the use of two actresses to play the Conchita role–not at distinct ages (the film takes place in a period of less than one year), but alternately in different scenes and even in the same scene. The interchange is unpredictable, emblematic of Conchita’s variable personality and temperament throughout the film. The transition between Bouquet and Molina is absolutely seamless; instead of being off-putting and taking the viewer out of the movie, this unique technique actually draws one into the experience even more.
As for the aforementioned tone…as destructive as Mathieu and Conchita’s relationship becomes, the film always exhibits a certain lightness, Buñuel’s trademark surrealist and subversive style playing in counterpoint to the story presented. Although extant in the dialogue and situations, said is most readily apparent in the visuals of the film–bright, flat lighting, with highly saturated colors, more reminiscent of Hollywood pictures of the 1960s than the moody revolution of the 70s–contributing so heavily in this regard.
The film has been beautifully restored, the 1.66 picture crisp and absolutely pristine throughout. As for sound, the audio consists mostly of dialogue, with not much of a music soundtrack and few sound effects. Thus the overall dynamic range of the sound is somewhat small, but within that range it is clean, balanced and undistorted.
The Blu-ray special features…interviews, interviews and more interviews. There are three interview-based featurettes–”Arbitrary Desire” (with collaborating screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriére), “Double Dames” (with Bouquet and Molina) and “A Portrait of Luis Buñuel” (with assistant director Pierre Lary and cinematographer Edmond Richard)–and one standalone interview with Buñuel friend writer/director Carlos Saura. All of these consist solely of talking head footage, occasionally interspersed with footage from the movie. What they lack in production value, however, they more than make up for in interesting information–a pleasant change from the standard big-studio featurettes of all style, no substance.
In summation, That Obscure Object of Desire is an atypical, unique and entertaining examination of passion degenerating into destructive behavior.