Luis Buñuel co-wrote and directed That Obscure Object of Desire (Cet obscure object du désir) film, adapted from Pierre Louys’ novel Le Femme et le Pantin (1898) that recounts Mathieu (Fernando Rey), a wealthy middle-aged man who falls in love with Conchita (Carole Bouquet) a 19 year-old former housemaid, who manipulates the obviously smitten Mathieu. In a series of surreal torments, each tries to obtain control of the other. Buñuel’s final film is an exploration of a stimulating game of sexual cat-and-mouse riddled in the midst of political discord and confusion. Mathieu begins his tale on a commuter train to Paris after a few of his car companions witness him pouring a bucket of water on Conchita just as she was boarding the train.
One day Mathieu (Rey) finds himself smitten with the young and beautiful Conchita (Bouquet). He immediately tries to win her affection but is rejected. Conchita quits her job directly after. When Mathieu discovers she has left his employ, he sets out to search for her convinced that he can win her affections. When he tracks her down, he finds that she lives with her mother in a small one bedroom apartment with her mother in a degraded part of town. He begins to lavish both Conchita and her mother with money and expensive gifts to win over both women, hoping that his sincerities hopefully will make Conchita reciprocate his kindness.
He is again shot down and decides to offer her mother a large sum of money to persuade her daughter of his sincerity. Again, Mathieu’s advances fail, and he becomes emotionally distraught. He asks a friend to help him be rid of Conchita and her mother. They are deported, and Mathieu decides to take a holiday where he again runs into Conchita, who is working at a small bistro. Convinced that he has won her affections–Conchita discloses that she is a virgin and asks if he is patient with her. After a few back and forth exchanges and exotic insistences–he finds Conchita dancing nude in a busy bar–Mathieu purchases a home and assures her that she will never have to work again. If only the original romance tale were to end there.
The film presents the most awkward situations that are both funny and sad. It is excruciatingly painful to watch as Mathieu vies for Conchita’s attention only to be erotically lured in by her suggestive natures and promises to submit to be repeatedly turned down. At the same time, the film changes course from fantasy and reality by producing situations of terroristic explosions and gunfire. The elegant thing about the movie is that the character two actors play Conchita–the gentler, more willing Conchita is played by Bouquet; and Ángela Molina plays the more aggressive and sexually manipulative temptress. In the beginning, the exchange of women is hardly discernible if not for the change in hair styles and hair textures (or the ending credits). The acting performances are seamlessly brilliant, and it isn’t any wonder that, in the end, the sexually competitive pairings are divisively concise.
That Obscure Object of Desire (Cet obscure object du désir) is a dizzying game of sexual politics punctuated by a terror that harkens back to Buñuel’s surrealistic beginnings.