That Obscure Object of Desire

Movie Information

In Brief: For what turned out to be his final film, Luis Buñuel turned to Pierre Louys' story The Woman and the Puppet — a work that had also served as the final film collaboration between Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich in 1935 as The Devil Is a Woman. The resulting film, That Obscure Object of Desire (1978), is so insistent that the woman be perceived as so obscure that Buñuel had her played by two different actresses. (When you're the world's most famous surrealist filmmaker, you can get away with that sort of thing.) The story of an older man's obsession with a younger woman may not be Buñuel's best, but it's certainly a farewell worth having.
Genre: Surreal Comedy Drama
Director: Luis Buñel
Starring: Fernando Rey, Carole Bouquent, Ángela Molina, Julien Bartheay, André Weber
Rated: R

Luis Buñuel’s final film That Obscure Object of Desire (1978) opens with Buñuel regular Fernando Rey catching a train, only to realize a young woman is pursuing him. He neatly disposes of this annoyance by — with the help of the conductor — unceremoniously pouring a bucket of water on her as she tries to board the train. Not surprisingly, this causes a certain interest among the other passengers, one of whom is a psychologist — and since this is a Buñuel picture, he’s also a dwarf. The man decides to tell the others the story that led up to this action — which is the story of his relationship with the woman, Conchita (played by Catole Bouquet or Angela Molina at various points in the film) in question. It’s a tale of romance (sort of), sexuality (mostly deferred) and mostly of obsession, which may or may not be the same thing. In its way, this is typical of Buñuel — a film about the foolishness of erotic obsession. The odds are a little upped by having two actresses play Conchita — a decision made more out of desperation than inspiration and brought on by one actress quitting part way through shooting. However, the approach works since it underscores just how obscure the object of that desire is. If the story sounds a little familiar that’s because it was also the source of Josef von Sternberg’s final collaboration with Marlene Dietrich, The Devil Is a Woman (1935). The concepts are similar, but the films aren’t very much alike — though they do make an intersesting comparison.That, however, is another story for another time.

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present That Obscure Object of Desire Friday, March 22 at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District, upstairs in the Railroad Library).  Info: 273-3332,

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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