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The Phantom of Liberty

1 rating: 5.0
A Luis Bunuel surrealist film.
1 review about The Phantom of Liberty

Bunuel strikes gold again.

  • Nov 30, 2011
**** out of ****

Luis Buñuel is easily the master surrealist of timeless cinema. He has made a few great films, a few good ones, and quite a lot that are categorized otherwise; although it's doubtful that such films in the latter category are amongst the director's finest works. Buñuel has made the same movie many times, from the looks of it; most of his best films are told through a confusing, non-linear surrealist plot revolving around coincidences and chance encounters; as well as things that just arrive unnoticed out of nowhere and get us where it hurts.

Buñuel's surrealist fantasies are often satires; and he understands something great about human nature. I saw his "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" not long ago, and I loved it for its sharp (and humorous) commentary on the titular social class. In that particular film, the foolishness of these elegant snobs was exploited for our pleasure; and at their expense. I expect that the reason behind Buñuel's profilic repetition is that he knows how to recycle with skill; I haven't seen the majority of his films yet, and in fact, "The Phantom of Liberty" - the film which I am talking about here - is only my second outing with Buñuel; and just like my first, it was a pleasant and complex one. How surprising it is that it only took two films for me to grasp and understand the art of Buñuel; and this is that you cannot always understand or decode his films the old fashion way, but his themes are conclusive and brightly explored. Therefore, he has an audience and a whole lot of uncanny appeal.

The filmmaker - the poet, the surrealist, the visionary, the storyteller - has an awkward but provocative fascination with sexuality and desire here. "The Phantom of Liberty" begins with a scene that, as I am told, was inspired by the Spanish short story called "The Kiss". The film opens in Toledo; where French Napoleonic troops have occupied the area and are kidnapping (as well as executing) flamboyant rebels. After this is over, the soldiers head to a church where they (figuratively) contaminate the walls of the building with their accumulative excrement; which comes in the form of eating the communion wafers and drinking the wine, among other things. This sequence ends, ironically, with one of the soldiers telepathically expressing his love for a feminine statue; prompting the stone woman's mate to give the suitor a whack on the back of the head, which knocks him unconscious. What this scene ends up suggesting, in relevance, I shall not reveal; for it is far too hilarious and true to the darkest of life.

Buñuel's film then moves on to present day, where a nanny takes a young girl from a bourgeoisie family to the park one fine afternoon, where she is given an envelope from a strange and much older man. Upon arriving home, the girl is questioned by her parents; who fire the nanny for her lack of control in this situation, and also open the envelope to find photos of French architecture (which they find odd sexual stimulation from, and thus, they must rid their home of such disgust). They hide behind their other, hidden existence.

I can't tell you all that happens in the film; so the other stories shall be left for you to discover, witness, and absorb with equal pleasure. "The Phantom of Liberty" is a whimsy treat that employs the filmmaker's most standard and world-renown methods of trickery; there are sequences both real and imagined, although they all feel somewhat surrealistic all-the-same. I think it's the structure of the plot - which could be referred to as an anti-plot since it refuses to make much sense beyond the trait of the mentioned "chance encounters" and "coincidences" (both common in the works of director Buñuel) - that makes the film such a phenomenal and fantastical watch. There isn't a dull moment to spare, and in spite of the consistent feeling of confusion and dream-like whimsy, you won't be scratching your pretty little heads as many times as you might expect; or at least that applies if you are somewhat familiar already with the works of this director or the genre he is most fond of contributing to.

Before I leave you with much to desire from "The Phantom of Liberty", I should perhaps mention the best of the film's many non-linear stories; the one in which the privacies of the restroom and the social qualities of a big meal are reversed; thus placing many people in difficult situations. People sit at toilets, all joined together and regrettably out-in-the-open; while they may leave when they please when it comes to the eating portion of the prolonged "activity". Another scene that I loved was a dream sequence; the dream itself belonging to the father of the bourgeoisie daughter. In his dream world, emus and chickens roam freely across carpets, the mail-man rides his bike right into your bedroom and delivers your mail right then and there, and a lady in black stands by the bed and blows out a candle; engulfing the room itself in complete blackness.

There are many characters and individual situations here; too many to mention, and too many to remember. I loved the film because it is 100% Buñuel; his fans will enjoy it the most, that is, if they have not seen it already. While "The Phantom of Liberty" may ponder such distressing themes as pedophilia, necrophilia, sadomasochism, and incest; it's still a very funny satire that dwells on all things surreal and gleefully absurd. It's often goofy, but at the same time, more thoughtful than most satirical films nowadays. They just don't make them like this anymore; and with good reason. I admire the daring approach that the filmmaker takes to his style; he turns himself on his head and lets us comprehend what his choices mean to both us and himself. You might call that pretension; I call it the work of one of cinema's finest illusionists.

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