The Phantom of Liberty

ISBN 13: 9780780030091

The Phantom of Liberty

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9780780030091: The Phantom of Liberty
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Bourgeois convention is demolished in Luis Buħuel's surrealist gem The Phantom of Liberty. Featuring an elegant soir#e 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 nonsequiturs deftly compiles many of the themes that preoccupied Buħuel throughout his career-from the hypocrisy of conventional morality to the arbitrariness of social arrangements.

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Review:

Any serious lover of film eventually (if not immediately) succumbs to the genius of Luis Bunuel. The bottomless wit and unsentimental clear-sightedness of the Spanish master is evident throughout his career, but Bunuel has the added bonus of never tapering off, never losing his edge. The Phantom of Liberty was produced when Bunuel was in his mid-70s, and it's as hilariously impertinent as anything he ever made. Along with his (and anybody's) key collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere, Bunuel strings together a series of reverse-logic dreams and surrealist blackouts, which flow from one to another without building into anything like a conventional storyline.

A nurse at an inn is sidetracked by a foursome of poker-playing priests, while an S&M couple down the hall invite everyone to their room for a drink and a show; a sit-down party has guests seated on toilets around a table; a police commissioner receives a phone call from his dead sister. None of it makes sense, except that it makes absolute sense. By the time a little girl is reported missing by her frantic parents, despite the fact that she is manifestly with them in schoolroom and police station, the film has entered the zone where comedy and unnerving observations come together in a perfect way. Many top European actors participate in this exercise, including Michel Piccoli, Monica Vitti, Jean Rochefort, and Jean-Claude Brialy. Perhaps the format limits the film from gaining the resonance of latter Bunuel films such as The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie or That Obscure Object of Desire, but it's a marvelous surrealist variety show. --Robert Horton

Additional Features:

A brief video introduction by screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere gives a succinct thought about why the film works the way it does (although it's best watched after the movie itself). A booklet includes a shrewd essay on Bunuel (special emphasis on insects) by Gary Indiana, and a good mid-1970s interview with the director. The film's digital transfer is fine, although it was never a technically impressive-looking picture to begin with. --Robert Horton

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