That Obscure Object of Desire: Criterion
Criterion // R // $29.99 // November 20, 2001
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted November 9, 2001
Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

Based upon a novel by Pierre Lou˙s and written by director Luis Bunuel and frequent co-writer Jean-Claude Carričre (he also worked with Bunuel on "Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie"), "That Obscure Object of Desire" is another in the director's history of surreal (and yet, fascinating) features that draw in the viewer with interesting characters and situations. "Desire" stars Fernando Rey as Mathieu, an older and wealthy gentleman who we see throwing a bucket of water on a woman as she races alongside his departing train. His fellow passengers are rather startled, so he decides to explain himself - and thus begins a series of flashbacks on how he fell for her, but she never really returned his affections.

Interestingly, Bunuel uses two different actresses in the role of the girl, Conchita (Carole Bouquet - who later went on to become a Bond girl in "For Your Eyes Only" and Ángela Molina) seemingly to show both sides of the woman that Mathieu was falling in love with. He desires her, wants her, but never really gets her; when he finds himself getting closer to being intimate, she (or, one of the two) turns frosty towards his advances and departs, only to meet up with him again further down the road. He remains confused and dissapoined with Conchita's ability to slip from his grasp - she remains an object of his desire, but also an object of mystery, as he never quite understands her, when she really wanted to be recognized as something more than just an object. She retains a power over him that eventually drives him mad.

While watching "Obscure", I was impressed at how exceptionally well the film worked. The constant struggle for power in the relationship between Mathieu and Conchita could have grown repetitive, but Bunuel's intelligent dialogue about relationships, the nicely done flashback structure, the neat (and quite effective) idea about using two different actresses to play the same role and the stellar performances really make "Obscure Object" a highly entertaining and enjoyable film. It's amazing to find that Bunuel was 77 when he made this picture, which was his last directorial effort.


VIDEO: Criterion presents "That Obscure Object of Desire" in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. While not quite flawless, my simple remark upon seeing even the first few minutes should summarize nicely: "Wow." According to the insert, this new transfer was created on a high definition Spirit Datacine and mastered from a 35mm interpositive. The results of Criterion's efforts are close to amazing. The 1977 picture looks extrodinarily well-defined, with even a nice depth to the image during many sequences. The entire film looked consistent, with no instances of softness.

Although the entire film didn't look completely clean, there were far fewer flaws than I'd expect of a film of its age. Some slight grain was visible at times throughout the film, but I very rarely noticed any further problems, aside from a speck or two on the print and a few stray marks. No edge enhancement or pixelation were visible, either.

Colors also looked quite nice throughout. Not the most vibrant of pictures, colors still did look accurate and problem-free, nonetheless. Fans of the picture will definitely be quite pleased to see the picture in such fine condition and presented with such care by Criterion. The layer change is fairly well placed at 1:04:13.

SOUND: Criterion presents "That Obscure Object of Desire" in French Mono and English Dubbed Mono. Although dubbed tracks are generally (and rightly so) frowned upon by many, this one also presented less pleasing sound quality, sounding subdued in comparison to the more open and natural sounding French track. Although it's great that the option is given, the French track with optional subtitles is the optimal way to go in this case.

MENUS:: As per usual, Criterion offers animated menus that are subtle, yet elegant, offering images and audio from the film.


Insert The insert includes an essay about the film as well as a reprinted interview with Bunuel.

Interview: This is a newly recorded (2000) 19-minute interview with screenwriter Jean-Claude , who discusses his experiences working with Bunuel and his thoughts about the story and concepts behind "Obscure Object". Carričre speaks in English in the interview.

Excerpts: The disc offers three excerpts from the 1929 feature, "La Femme Et Le Pantin", another adaptation of the same book that was adapted for this picture. This section also offers notes on this other adaptation and the author of the novel.

Also: The film's theatrical trailer.

Final Thoughts: "That Obscure Object of Desire" is a terrific film; well-crafted, wonderfully acted and with insteresting characters and suprises along the way. Criterion's DVD offers marvelous video quality and fine audio quality, along with a very nice helping of supplements. Highly recommended.

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