That Obscure Object of Desire, 1977

The opening sequence of That Obscure Object of Desire has come to define the surreal, sardonic humor of the great director, Luis Buñuel. Before leaving for his trip, Mathieu (Fernando Rey), a wealthy middle-aged businessman, methodically orders his valet to burn everything in the room that is associated with a certain woman. On his way to the train station, he is caught in traffic after a terrorist bomb explodes in a diplomat’s car. From the train, he spots a beautiful young woman named Conchita (Carole Bouquet/Angela Molina), and proceeds to dowse her with a bucket of water. He returns to his cabin to the aghast of the other passengers, one of whom is a dwarf psychology professor. He justifies his seeming misogyny by attempting to explain their curious relationship. Drawing from a subject to which the director has dedicated much of his film career, That Obscure Object of Desire is a farcical examination on the puzzle of sexual politics. Buñuel appropriately structures the film in thematic cycles to symbolize Mathieu’s confusion. Their relationship is depicted in a series of breakups and reconciliations. There is a constant threat of terrorist activity, punctuated by explosions at the beginning and end of the film. More importantly, two women interchangeably portray the elusive Conchita, symbolizing the complexity of her character, and Mathieu does not seem to notice the difference. Figuratively, he does not understand Conchita, and therefore, cannot possess her completely. All of his attempts to win her: through kindness, money, gifts, even brute force, are his perception of her needs, and is confounded by her rejection. She is the obscure object of desire, enigmatic and unattainable. The final scene shows the reconciled couple arguing, behind the silence of a lace shop window…and so the battle wages on – a testament to the eternal mystery of sexual psychology.

© Acquarello 1999. All rights reserved.

Sidebar