That Obscure Object of Desire

| January 23, 2013

Luis Buñuel’s final film, 1977’s That Obscure Object of Desire, makes it Blu-ray debut on the Studiocanal Collection on January 29, 2013. Based on Pierre Louys’ 1898 novel, La Femme et le Pantin, the film is a fascinating exploration of desire, class struggles, man’s inability to understand women, and, oddly enough, terrorism. It tells the story of Mathieu (played by Buñuel regular Fernando Rey), a wealthy businessman who develops a lasting, tortuous obsession with Conchita, a younger woman whose wants he can’t determine for the life of him.

Buñuel made the inspired decision here to cast two actresses, Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina, in the role of Conchita. Buñuel’s constant switching between the two is key to obscuring that object of Mathieu’s desire, because each woman plays the role quite differently, subverting each other at every turn. Molina’s Conchita is more vulnerable, Earthy, vengeful, and fickle. Bouquet’s is cold, distant, powerful, and plotting. Their actions and motivations never seem to gel. They’re just too different, and that’s exactly the point. As a result of this dual casting, we struggle from titles to credits to put our finger on the character’s drives. What it is she wants is never quite clear to us, nor of course is it ever clear to Mathieu. Truthfully, the real fun of the movie lies in struggling alongside Mathieu to figure her out. It’s the subject of the title of the piece after all.

Every Studiocanal Collection release I have encountered prior to That Obscure Object of Desire has been spectacular, and this is truly no exception. Admittedly, I don’t have another copy of That Obscure Object of Desire on hand to conduct a comparison, which I like to do where possible for Blu-ray releases of classic films, especially when they had a previous release through Criterion. That said, I found the picture quality of this release to be impressive all around in its lack of debris and consistency in colors, contrast, and brightness. Of course, Buñuel shot the film in muted tones to begin with, so don’t expect a bright, Technicolor palette or anything. That’s just not this film. Which reminds me of one oddity I encountered with this release: On the copy I received at least, it states that the film is black and white, which it is not. It wasn’t shot in black and white and it isn’t presented here in black and white. So don’t be discouraged if you see that. Everything is fine here. And I can’t recommend this film or this release enough.

Special features on the Studional release of That Obscure Object of Desire include interviews with Buñuel’s co-writer Jean-Claude Carrière, Bouquet and Molina, filmmaker Carlos Saura; and “A Portrait of Luis Buñuel.”

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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