DIRECTOR:                     LUIS BUNUEL
COUNTRY:                     FRANCE 1974
CAST:                              Adriana Asti, Julien Bertheau, Jean-Claude Briarly, Adolfo Celi, Paul Frankeur, Michel Piccoli, Michel Lonsdale, Jean Rochefort, Monica Vitti.
SUPER FEATURES:       The non-story, and the film.

There are a lot of films, in the course of history of film that have stood up, for many reasons. Some of them are radiant stories, some of them are vivid adventures, some of them are acting showcases. I think we should add another element to this list. A non-story, or in the Godard'ian sense, a non-film. But one that speaks so much in so many ways, that it is even hard to classify it.

Luis Bunuel, must have gotten to the point where he was tired of telling a story, and decided to make a film that had no story per se, just events, that somehow came together, by whatever circumstances. And in doing so, he creates a film that is really free, but as the title suggests, it is also not free, because its characters, are trapped all the time. Thus the nice title, the "phantom" of liberty, or the illusion of liberty. When it comes right down to it, none of his personages, in his 45 years of film making, are ever free in any way, regardless of the fact that some of them feel that they are free. There is always behind it all an underlying "reason", or "organization", that somehow ends up messing things up.

Is there a story to this film? Well, it doesn't matter if there is or not, but for all intents and purposes, this film is really one about discussing the
social mores that we are so accustomed to. And for Luis Bunuel to be able to do so the way he wanted, he may have to create a situation, or a sequence of situations, that allowed him to move from moment to moment, without having to deal with any character's emotional catharsis. And of course, when this freedom is decided upon, the rest is a total surrealistic nightmare for any character in the film. Starting with the husband that is having nightmares, and can not make sense of anything, from a rooster, to a mailman, to a peacock, to a woman, that appear in his dream. So much for liberty and freedom, it seems... we are trapped regardless. We will always create something to entrap ourselves in, a familiar theme going way back to Los Olvidados, and even further.

But the thing that makes this film so special, is the premeditated hypocrisies that people get themselves involved in, and the social mores that tend to circle those things. In specific is the searing attack on our dinner behavior, or maybe we should say, our privy room's behavior. The reversed situations create immediately an amazing juxtaposition that makes this film weird, and hilarious at the same time.

From that point on, the film ends up taking up a Police Chief and his adventures all the way to the end of the film. In the process he is also
caught having delusions about his long dead sister, and then turning right around, he goes with the Police Commander ( France uses to, one a policeman and the other a civilian ) to the zoo, where they end up overseeing a violent and bloody riot, where their feelings towards death is who cares, and they order the police to shoot at will. This savagery, combines earlier with a mass murderer, who killed people at will, was convicted to death, and is immediately freed, where he is immediately mobbed for autographs, and then walks out in the street.

It is really difficult to see Luis Bunuel's point, away from the individual point of view for each character. But one thing is for sure in his last ten
years. He was less pre-occupied with his character's inner feelings, and decided to take on the institutions that gave him a hard time, most notably the church, so well known for its hypocrisies in Europe, but still looked at as saintly in America, or having some "values". And here the group of priests that appear earlier, are smoke totting card gamblers, who are using coins that have a virgin in it ( old roman coins I think ), for money as they gamble the night away, until a couple with some very personal enjoyments decides to show them all off. One up them as it were.

It is really difficult to discuss this film, and its many "symbols". Everything is a symbol in this film, every line, and every moment is some kind of act that will display the total opposite of its nature. And Luis Bunuel, decides that this opposite is worth exposing.

One thing is for sure. Other than the very off beat stuff that Peter Greenaway is doing these days, there are not many film makers that are taking the art form into another era or level. And film makers like Luis Bunuel, are  really missed for it. By comparison, many films today, some 23 years later, are made just for symbolic junk, rather than a serious question about what each person is and sees, both to himself and herself, much less adding to it their connection with the social order, which is the real kicker.

A magnificent film, although a nightmare for top ten enthusiasts, because its action is not in the screen... it's action is in us trying to put it all
together, and that's just the beginning.

A should see for film students, and enthusiasts.





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