That Obscure Object of Desire
Luis Buñuel’s final film explodes with eroticism, bringing full circle the director’s lifelong preoccupation with the darker side of desire. Buñuel regular Fernando Rey plays Mathieu, an urbane widower, tortured by his lust for the elusive Conchita. With subversive flare, Buñuel uses two different actresses in the lead—Carole Bouquet, a sophisticated French beauty, and Angela Molina, a Spanish coquette. Drawn from Pierre Louÿs’s 1898 novel, La Femme et le Pantin, That Obscure Object of Desire is a dizzying game of sexual politics punctuated by a terror that harkens back to Buñuel’s brilliant surrealistic beginnings.
The Criterion Collection’s original DVD edition for Luis Buñuel’s final film, That Obscure Object of Desire, presents the film on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. The standard-definition presentation is sourced from a high-definition restoration, scanned from a 35mm interpositive, and has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Despite a few problems the image ends up looking decent enough. The image can be a bit noisy, and edge-enhancement can be seen here and there throughout, but as a whole the picture is sharp and detail is decent enough. Colours lean a bit warm but saturation looks good, with sharp looking reds and greens. Black levels are iffy, looking murky in a few darker shots, but they’re generally deep and inky.
The restoration has cleaned up things well enough, though a handful of noticeable blemishes remain. The image can also pulse and fluctuate but it’s mild. In all, yeah, it could be better, but it still looks pretty sharp for an older DVD presentation.
Criterion provides two audio tracks, both in Dolby Digital mono: the original French soundtrack and an optional English dub. The French sounds better in that it’s cleaner and less distorted, but neither are exceptional. A couple of explosions sound fine and there is some fidelity to be found in the dialogue, but outside of that it is severely limited.
Criterion’s edition is pretty spare on supplements but at least they’re good. First, there is a 19-minute interview featuring screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere. Carriere talks extensively about how the two usually worked together, which involved them living together for weeks or months. The writer then gets into how Buñuel came up with the idea of casting two actors in the same role, which was born out of frustration initially (Buñuel had initially cast Maria Schneider and he found it difficult to work with her).
Criterion also includes three scenes from Jacques de Baroncelli’s 1929 silent film, Le femme et le pantin, an adaptation of the same novel That Obscure Object of Desire is based on. The notes indicate that Buñuel had seen the film several times and based on the scenes here it’s easy to see that it did inspire him, at least in small ways. The scenes featured include: Conchita’s dance, the scene where Conchita humiliates Mateo (named Mathieu in Buñuel’s film), and the fight scene. Though Buñuel’s film takes each scene a little further, you can see how elements from this film make their way into his. I would have loved to get the whole film, but I’m not sure how prohibitive that would have been.
Criterion has provided notes indicating where the matching scenes can be found in the main feature.
The disc closes with the film’s original theatrical trailer, and then an included booklet features a short essay on the film by William Rothman as well as a reprinted excerpt of an interview with Buñuel.
I honestly would have expected more, especially since it was Buñuel’s last film, so this release has always been a bit of a disappointment.
The lack of features for Buñuel’s final film has always been a little maddening, but it’s still a decent lower-tier DVD, delivering a decent, if unspectacular, standard-definition presentation.