Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Phantom of Liberty (1974)

One of Luis Buñuel's most episodic films, The Phantom of Liberty focuses on no one particular narrative. In the beginning, a man sells postcards of French tourist attractions, calling them "pornographic." A sniper in Montparnasse is hailed as a hero for killing passersby. A "missing" child helps the police fill out the report on her. A group of monks play poker, using religious medallions as chips, and in the most infamous sequence, a formally dressed social group gathers at toilets around a table, occasionally excusing themselves to go into little stalls in a private room to eat. ~ John Voorhees, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 104 mins
The Phantom of Liberty (1974)

Technically it seems it should be episodic or not and thus "most" is inappropriate as a adjective in this case. I missed the parts on the "pornographic" postcards, but at one time the small girl gets some pictures of buildings and the parents go through them tearing up the ones they consider in bad taste, i.e. pornographic. Dirty minds find dirty things.

I also missed the monks poker chips, but it was already obvious that the director was having fun with their immodest behavior. As they already were drinking and smoking like chimneys while gambling. But the funny aspect was that they suddenly were offended when one couple in the bed and breakfast got out a whip and the male was being whipped on the bare butt. They both went into the restroom to change-private bath where others shared a common one.

So in one way it was funny that defecating in public was acceptable but eating required a separate room that could be locked. But this was a far cry from the jacket cover as to how funny this film could have been. Some of the "jokes" could have been told in a lot less time. Like the child that was missing in school but then on roll call she says here and then they still proceed to do an investigation for like 18 months.
Bourgeois convention is demolished in Luis Bunuel's surrealist gem The Phantom of Liberty. Featuring an elegant soiree with guests seated at toilet bowls, poker-playing monks using religious medals as chips, and police officers looking for a missing girl who is right under their noses, this perverse, playfully absurd comedy of non sequiturs deftly compiles many of the themes that preoccupied Bunuel throughout his career-from the hypocrisy of conventional morality to the arbitrariness of social arrangements.

Not really demolished and not really bourgeois as do any culture consider excrement as a form of social interaction and eating as something to shun in public?

In hind sight maybe many of the social arrangements are indeed arbitrary but then the analysis would be apolitical and ahistorical. Basically the film had some funny moments including the very perverse nephew that wants to see his aunt naked and at one time tells someone else she is his mother. After much coaxing we get to see the aunt and that was funny enough to see the movie. But overall I could not rate it more than a 2.

When I think back today, The Milky Way, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and The Phantom of Liberty, which were three original screenplays, seem to form a kind of trilogy, or rather a triptych, as in the Middle Ages. All three have the same themes, sometimes even the same lines; all evoke the search for truth, and the need to flee that truth once we think we’ve found it, and the implacable nature of social rituals. And all deal with the indispensable quest for chance, personal ethics, and the sense of mystery which must be respected.

That was from the introduction to the interview entitled: BUÑUEL ON “THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY”. The library version had a pamphlet which included the interview and also a longer review of the film at The Phantom of Liberty: The Serpentine Movements of Chance By Gary Indiana. Still keeping my rating low for this film but with the variety of information about the ideas behind the film, I will schedule to watch the other two. The purpose more of a thought experiment and research.

No comments: