It’s an often forgotten fact that truly memorable art comes from artists of the world…
With one obvious exception (The iconic Catherine Deneuve in Belle Du Jour), I have to admit that I knew very little about the completed works of one Luis Bunuel.
A true iconoclast of the moving image, Bunuel was born in Spain, worked in Mexico and in France and had contemporaries like Salvador Dali at his side as he drew inspiration from the likes of Fritz Lang and countless others to make a swath of cinema that was always different and pushing boundaries at every turn.
Having worked consistently over the course of three decades, he travelled the world to take advance of the opportunities that presented themselves but none of his work is quite so iconic as the films that came out of his late period work in France.
Our friends at The Criterion Collection have recently come out with a brand new Blu-Ray set of the last three films in his storied career which just might rank among his best and qualify as a sort of career capping trilogy.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a gleeful assault on the ruling class of the time as it presents with six distinct upper middle class types that try to sit down for a dinner that is continuously delayed and thwarted by events both actual and imagined which run the gamut from the practical to the truly absurd. It’s satire at its levels in acted by cavalcade of some of the best European actors of the time, including frequent collaborator Fernando Rey, Stephane Audran and Delphine Seyrig among others.
Released in 1972, it’s hard to argue that Discreet Charm is the beginning of his art house victory lap as he layers the pomposity of the ruling class and the layers that they exist in while very actively taking the piss and telling them where to go as this sextet of characters runs rough shod over anything and anyone decent in their way.
With a strong visual esthetic and real flair makes it the kind of comedic master stroke that would not only inspire humorists but film historians for years to come. It’s the kind of film that can be studied and appreciated from fresh angles and repeat viewings again and again.
The Phantom of Liberty is easily the most bent of these final films as he gives us a story that out and out is looking to obliterate the norm of the social rituals that we use every day. Flying wherever he pleases through time and space, to the days of Napoleonic era all the way to present day as he channels his unconscious mind and rebellious nature against the foibles of humanity on to the screen.
Imagine if Monty Python decided to make a piece of French New Wave cinema, that’s what The Phantom of the Liberty is as it marries sardonic social commentary with some brilliantly engaging visual set pieces that will make you want for more.
Rounding it all out in 1977 we get Bunuel’s final film which may have very well been his most personal as well. That Obscure Object of Desire dives into a subject that has driven a huge part of the man’s career as we dive head first into the dark nature of desire itself.
With Fernando Rey in the role of Mathieu we see an urbane and suave widower thrown into the depths of a tortured lust for the elusive Conchita. With his unique flair he uses two actresses for the role, the sophisticated Carole Bouquet and the sultry Angela Molina. Drawn from the classic erotic novel ‘The Woman and the Puppet’; That Obscure Object of Desire is the pinnacle of sexual politics on screen.
It’s fitting as these three films are paired together because as much as they can feel like they are about nothing to the untrained eye, it’s actually the exact opposite and it’s so fitting that these films are paired together in this new set. All three films are unequivocally about life itself and all of its provocative highs and lows that come with it.
Constantly playing in the realms of the surreal and the Dadaist movement the point everything that Bunuel did, which is so beautiful summed up in these three final movies is to ultimately piss us all off. Not in a bad way, but in a way that was unique and amazing. As much as he was a filmmaker who worked prolifically across many genres, there isn’t a single piece of film that he ever put on the screen that wasn’t distinctly and truly his very own.
There are far too many special features on this three disc set to truly recount them all but with new high definition restorations of all films, behind the scenes documentaries about the films and Bunuel himself with countless interviews from collaborators, analysis from scholars and so very much more, this is set is a piece of film history in a tight package that no one can deny.
All three of these films are radical pieces of cinema in their own rights and no one can doubt that. For a career that shocked the world by taking a razor blade to an eyeball in his short film Un Chien Andalou it seems only fitting that this final trilogy of films would take a gleeful pleasure in shining a light on the kind of people who would be shocked and outraged by the kind of art that he was making in the first place.
To put it simply The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Phantom of Liberty and That Obscure Object of Desire are vital pieces for anyone who loves the moving image because no matter how many times you watch them, you’ll never stop learning from them.
- Release Date: 1/5/2020