Cet Obscur Objet Du Désir (That Obscure Object Of Desire) directed by Luis Buñuel (France/Spain, 1977)
There are plenty of films where women are badly treated by men but in this movie it is the man who is a victim of sorts and , like all the best farces, it has a tragic aspect.
Mathieu (Fernando Rey) has status, power and wealth, all of which gives him a sense of entitlement with a younger woman from a less privileged background. He meets her when she is taken on as a new housemaid and it’s a case of lust at first sight. He invites her to bring a drink (an aphrodisiac!) to his room and immediately makes direct advances.
She wisely resists and the next morning he learns that she has packed and left without notice and giving no indication of a forwarding address. This first rejection sets the pattern for their unconsummated relationship.
The object of this desire is Conchita who is played two actresses – the first (Carole Bouquet) is younger and has the air of a graceful ballerina. The second (Angela Molina) has a more worldly aspect and is a haughty flamenco dancer.
There is no Lost Highway moment where one body morphs into the other; instead, the two alternate scenes and sometimes even swap roles mid scene. Strangely, this isn’t all that obvious at first and Buñuel says that many audiences didn’t even notice at all, perhaps because they were not expecting it and because nobody in the movie draws any attention to the physical differences.
Conchita continually raises the older man’s expectations only to dash them at the eleventh hour. Put bluntly, she is a prick tease whose motives appear to be primarily mercenary. In one scene she goes to bed with him wearing an elaborately tied pair of shorts which functions as effectively as a chastity belt.
Undeterred, he gives her money and buys her a luxury flat but she repays him by taunting him more brutally, culminating in her having sex with a younger lover while Mathieu, behind a locked gate, is reduced to the role of an unwilling voyeur.
There is something sadistic about her actions but, equally. something masochistic about his continued pursuit of what most would see as a lost cause. The title is a reference to inexpressible/inexplicable nature of such infatuations and the movie shows how sexual desire has a tendency to produce illogical behaviour in even the most rational of people.
Set against a backdrop of terrorist outrages it literally begins and ends explosively but Luis Buñuel’s last film is actually quite understated.
In his autobiography, Buñuel wrote that “in addition to the theme of the impossibility of truly possessing a woman’s body, the film insists on maintaining that climate of insecurity and imminent disaster – an atmosphere we all recognise because it is our own”