June 11, 2009

That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)
Grade: 77/100

Director: Luis Buñuel
Stars: Fernando Ray, Carole Bouquet, Ángela Molina

What it's about. Poor Fernando Ray. The sixtyish gentleman has plenty of money and is in perfect health, but he can't have the one thing he craves most: the G-spot of Conchita, a lovely brunette barely into her twenties.

It's not for lack of trying. Fernando courts Conchita obsessively, showering money on both her and her pleasant middle-aged mother. He's nice to her, he's patient with her, he buys her an apartment. And he makes progress, but she continues to delay his ultimate sexual conquest. Eventually, it becomes clear that her purpose in life conflicts with his: she seeks to tantalize him forever without ever actually conceding her purported virginity.

To make matters more confusing, two actresses play Conchita: ice princess Carole Bouquet, and the considerably warmer Ángela Molina.

The film also incorporates several amusing subplots. Fernando regales train passengers with the story of his ill-fated romance with Conchita. Fernando's valet André Weber cedes to the whims of his employer, however odd they may be. Conchita makes an enemy of a restaurant manager. For some reason, I find this last running gag hilarious, precisely because it doesn't make any sense. What manager would forbid a brief employee conversation with a customer?

And, really, that is what a Luis Buñuel movie is all about. Nonsense. That Obscure Object of Desire, Buñuel's final movie and completed at age 77, does have a plot. But it is a trifle, an excuse for a series of sex comedy skits under the theme of "One Two Three Red Light."

How others will see it. There's good news for hormone-driven men. Bouquet is gorgeous, Molina is beautiful, and both have several nude or semi-nude scenes. But women like the film as well, perhaps because they figure that aged sod Fernando deserves to be teased. Eventually, the eternally frustrated Fernando resorts to more violent treatment of Conchita, but even this is inoffensive. It merely begins a new and advanced level in their strange relationship.

How I felt about it. Buñuel may be a surrealist director, but Fernando's character is straightforward, at least at first. He simply wants the hot young lady, a typical male obsession. It isn't until late in their relationship that his character changes, when he turns to abuse. At this point, he claims to despise her, but as always, it is a thin line between love and hate.

Conchita's motivation is more difficult to determine. Of course, she benefits financially from her teasing of Fernando. It is also true that if she gave in to his desires early, he might lose interest, having gotten what he wanted. Presumably, then, she is a con artist, whose goal is to string along Fernando until all his assets are hers. If so, she feels nothing toward Fernando, and her hot and cold behavior (which eventually borders on malicious) is all an act. Certainly, there's no telling whether or not any exhibited emotion on her part is genuine. All we know is that she likes the company of the young guitar player, and that she will never, ever actually have sex with Fernando Rey.