Cinema Chronicles: That Obscure Object of Desire

The many masks of love and lust and how interchangeable they really are.

At the core of this grand piece of film lays a fundamental question, who is the hunter and who is the hunted?  

That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) CREDIT:The Criterion Collection

Luis Bunuel’s ‘That Obscure Object of Desire’ was an adaption of the 1898 novel The Woman and the Puppet. Widely considered one of the greatest swansongs of cinema. As a final film ‘That Obscure Object of Desire’ surely paints justice across the ending chapter and life of an all-time great visionary.   

Luis Bunuel (left) with leading ladies Angela Molina (middle) and Carole Bouquet (right) on set of That Obscure Object of Desire.

Young Conchita (dual role by Bouquet and Molina) vibrant with the colors of her youth and red-hot Spanish blood entices the grey-haired fox Mathieu or as Conchita and later her mother affectionately brand him, Mateo into the chase of a lifetime.

Her beauty strikes his eyes as he visits a friend of his, Conchita is working as a maid and as quick as a glance expires, Mathieu cannot help himself but hound every movement of the young girl, he revisits her like an eager schoolboy and becomes obsessed with conquering the ever-allusive Conchita.  

Conchita is presented as a playful girl who is very much aware of the control she has over men, it’s very likely this isn’t the first rodeo for Conchita as none of the actions of Mathieu ever seem to truly fluster her, only annoying her, but always with control. Mathieu begins a frankly pathetic attempt to woo his Helen of Troy, designer bags, daily groceries at her doorstep and countless promises of country-side getaways.

It gets to the point where Mathieu’s groveling is only justified by Conchita’s masterful puppeteering of the relationship. The whole film could be summed up as a rabbit slavering itself in barbecue sauce and hopping ever so near a chained starving cayote’s mouth.  

Mathieu overcome with a feeling far stronger then himself, can no longer hold back and explodes in a fit of old man lust.

She refuses to concede herself to him, finds excuses each time to spend as little of time with him as possible and seems to be on her way to different cities with every slight combative exchange they have, Mathieu ambitiously chasing the bread trail Conchita places behind her. Whether it’s Seville, Paris or even Mars he chases after her like a bank chasing a late loan payment.

The question I began to ponder was whether any of his interest was ever genuine or was Conchita simply a nut he couldn’t crack.  I had difficulty trusting either of these two, but Mathieu is the character I took exception with the most. The power he held from a social perspective probably led him to believe he could easily bed Conchita, like countless other conquests he has influenced as a bourgeoise man. When rejection strikes his ears, he becomes intrigued, as the teasing of Conchita continues, we see our morally aroused protagonist become obsessed, but with what?         

Mateo is a slobbering heap of hormones and throughout his journey we learn the truth depth of his prideless conviction. Our charming Mateo with all his might and riches is nothing but a dog chasing a mythical bone, unlucky for him this bone is a red blooded girl, not a woman yet but for him that never really mattered. His childish attempts to conquest her would work on any wide-eyed belle, and it almost does, for awhile but then reality kicks in.

The control he so readily attempted to shackle Conchita with, was around his own neck. She was not the one chasing after him nor the one breaking her marriage for a sniff of his shadow. There is nowhere left to run, he’s defeated and lost, so he rages to the sky and through his open hand he strikes Conchita until she bleeds, but the reality he was striking was the old bastard he realized he truly was.

The one thing our bourgeoisie couldn’t tame, Conchita.

Conchita is found to have been playing ventroloquist, never had she loved him, a realization that angers Mateo more then any rejection of his wormy pursuits because for the first time he realizes he has truly lost.

No matter how much money or time he throws her way it’ll never work. In the end no money can turn an old man, young and no man can turn a girl into a woman.

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