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The master of surrealistic cinema, Luis Buñuel, changed his approach to the
bourgeoisie after "Tristana", and his last three films are all comic and
prevail through a mixture of pure surrealism, extreme irony and the one
consistent theme of Buñuel's auteurship- hatred of the ruling classes.
"Le Fantôme de la Liberté" is perhaps Buñuel's least accessible work since his first two films, "Un Chien Andalou" and "L' Age d' Or". It is a thematic continuation of "Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie", where the seven protagonists just couldn't finish, or even start, a meal. This is a strong metaphor for Buñuel's view that the bourgeoisie is a dying class, and that not even a violent revolution is needed to remove the bourgeoisie from power and wealth. They are perfectly capable of doing so themselves, through their indulgence in pathetic etiquette and decaying sense of morality. "Le Fantôme" is not funnier than "Le Charme", but it is harder to understand, and this is exactly what Buñuel and Carrière wanted after the success of "Le Charme" at the previous Academy Awards.
In "Le Fantôme", not even the characters are consistent throughout the film. This film is like a relay, where one member of the ruling class passes the stick to the next, and never comes back to the vision of the audience. They just leave, like Buñuel wanted them to, perhaps, but in this film is an important factor because it confirms Buñuel's non-human view of the people of this class. His was a collective hatred, and this film reflects his collective view of the bourgeoisie. The film contains absurd, surreal incidents, like priests playing cards while smoking and drinking, parents reacting to postcards of famous buildings given their daughter by a stranger as they were obscene and a writer killing tens of people from his sniping-position at the roof of a building. The writer is found not guilty, and the continuing mix-up of characters, two actors competing for one role makes for a very confusing narrative. Or maybe the "story" is just a mockery of traditional storytelling in film. Resnais and Robbe-Grillet made "Last Year in Marienbad" just to prove that telling stories is a bourgeois thing and not necessary for modernist or revolutionary cinema.
This film is actually based on a painting by Francisco José de Goya called "El Tres de Mayo" (The three in Mayo), and "Le Fantôme" starts with a short episode of how Buñuel depicts the incidents during the Napoleon Wars. But it's the theme of Goya's painting that Buñuel is concerned with, and this film is more than a mockery of the bourgeoisie, it is also an attack on communist doctrine which all over the world only seems to take from the people what is was supposed to give to the people: Freedom, and also an attack on leftist defeatism. The glorification of the defeat is perhaps the modern Left's biggest problem, which only leads to a move away from power. "Down with freedom!", Buñuel's revolutionaries shout- and the firing squads start firing at the dying revolutionaries.
Buñuel seems to be even more brilliant without the screenplays by
Salvador Dali (un Chien Andalou, l'Age d'or, both 1930). Of course
Jean-Claude Carriere is not a small name either, but Buñuel must be the
great mind behind this masterpiece. Fantome seems to take off right
from the premises of 'Le Voie lactee' (1969), as people seem to move in
mysterious ways and mysterious things happen to them, there sometimes
even seems to be time-traveling. Anything can happen along the way. But
whereto leads the way? Who knows the direction and if so, does that
direction make sense and to whom?
Yes, this film raises a lot of questions and that must be Buñuel's greatest power: question what you've always taken for granted. In any way, Buñuel continues his 'unrestricted creativeness' as someone on IMDb named it. Absurd, bizarre, subversive, anti-clericism, magic realism, surrealism, sophistry, you name it! Everything is in here. He seems to have returned to the experimental years (1929, 1930) completely. He probably thought he could get away with that because Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972) won an Academy Award for best foreign picture and Buñuel figured that everybody would be going to see this film, no matter how off the wall it was.
In Voie Lactee is a heated conversation between a catholic and a Jesuit about personal freedom that comes to a mysterious compromise when the Jesuit exclaims: 'Ma liberte est un fantom!' That is worked out here in Fantome de la liberte for a wider audience, in that we don't have to know much about the differences between catholics and Jesuits to be able to understand what's going on. Well, maybe most of the time. The other part it is just plain fun to watch and get your world turned upside down (That's why Catch-22 (Nichols, 1970) is my personal favourite film).
Cinematographer Edmond Richard (Charme discret de la bourgeoisie 1972, Cet obscure object du desir 1977) who should have won an Academy Award for 'Le Proces' (Welles, 1963) demonstrates that he can collaborate with Buñuel fabulously in Buñuel's last three films. Still I feel I'm missing the point of this film by a long shot. But that just gives me a reason to see it again soon! For now I'm just very thankful that someone recommended this to me.
10 points out of 10 :-)
One of Buñuel's greatest films. Scene after scene arguments are used as
beautiful excuses to subvert reality and attack established and
institutions with acute humor and surrealist means. If you have a taste
surrealism and absurd humor (i.e. Monty Python, Marx Bros., etc.) this
cannot be recommended enough.
One small correction: the sniper is not sentenced to death but to capital punishment which results in something altogether different from death (and far more sarcastic).
This excellent collection of satirical vignettes is my kind of movie - crazy, dark and comical, it goes any direction it wants and does not follow any rules. When we try to grasp for the meaning, it is like a ghost, a phantom that "leaves us with a wisp of vapor in our hands" and disappears - very much like the liberty, the freedom the humans try to find but instead could only see its phantom disappearing. The film follows many characters on its way shifting effortlessly and playfully from the central ones to the minor ones making minor ones the central and going back and forth from one time period to another. It opens in Toledo during the Napoleonic occupation then jumps to the modern day Paris. It could've gone anywhere and introduced me to any character - it still would've been enormously interesting because it was made by the master who had never lost his curiosity, his inquisitive mind, his memory that consisted of the strange and amazing images, his sense of humor, his childhood dreams, his fantasies, dark and shining and who was able to throw them all on the screen like no one ever was able or will be able to do. To understand Bunuel completely would be as impossible as to catch the Phantom of Liberty - he will be always one of the best and unsolved mysteries in the Art of Cinema.
What can one say after watching "The phantom of liberty"? if you want
to make films of your own, you can only be jealous with the power of
Buñuel at directing the most simple everyday situations with a
surrealist twist without thinking twice and flicking an eye. his hatred
of the bourgeoisie is evident here even much more in then in his
masterpiece "The discreet charm...". and the reason is: in that film
there was a plot, a reason, a context which within things were
happening, and the viewer could relate to things that happened earlier
in the film. but in this picture there is no line, not one story, but
stories that don't even intertwine with one another. just a collection
of fragments, some strange, some funny, some totally impossible.
The freedom that Bunuel takes upon himself is backened with a lot of responsibility. one has to be responsible and not losing the viewer. but this freedom is exactly the same that he had as an artist while making "Un chien andalou", or "Archibaldo de la cruz". it's just that this time there is an attack at yet another bourgeoisie item: order. stories claim order. so is the ruling class.
So Bunuel and Carriere decided to attack the order of storytelling itself. it's a very tricky business to do on film, but if you understand the way dream works, no problem. let's go straight ahead. and so much fun is promised.
Just like any other Bunuel film, there are no special effects, no overwhelming shots, no camera or editing tricks. just an attack, there is no other way calling this, on reality of the mind, of the eye and of order of things. it is only when you release yourself from social rules that are false, fake and immoral, you can become free again. only when you see your fellow man and his suffering, you can become moral. only when you cry against social injustice, you can justify the revolution of humanity against greed and the wars it inflicted us into. if you'll keep on crying "death to freedom", you are in danger of becoming one of them bourgeois guys. and it's so easy, my god...
Although Bunuel was to make one more film,"cet obscur objet du désir"
,"phantom of liberty" would remain his testament,his last sigh ,to
mention the title of his memoirs.
The key to the movie is the segment dealing with the naughty gendarmes,the sociology teacher and Margaret Mead's books.Law must not be taken for granted,it depends on where and when you live.Something which would seem unbearable to us is nothing but natural to other human beings.The whole movie walks this fine line,being built around this very concept.It is Bunuel's most accessible movie and it's completely mad,which is fine with me.Its construction is not unlike Max Ophuls's "la ronde" (1950) as a new character provides the connection between the segments.It's not really free-form ,in the sense of the nouvelle vague ,nothing Godardesque here and anyway,Bunuel possessed something Jean-Luc will never have:humor.And the screenplay displays care and respect for the audience.One should point out Jean-Claude Carrière's importance in Bunuel's last works in France.
In "discreet charm of the bourgeoisie" ,humor which was latent in the former works (the dogs in "Viridiana" ;the pineapple in "Nazarin" ) came to the fore."Phantom" is probably not as strong as the previous work:it's sometimes uneven and some segments (the old aunt and her nephew)drag on.But most of the times,it's a delight.Bunuel's usual targets ,the Church and the Army are both given a rough ride .But social conventions ,"normality" are too.
A bevy of great actors take us to a magical mystery tour (Bunuel's regret was that too many movies lack mystery) Here he focused on the secret of the passage of the night hours ,wherever the action takes place ,in Brialy's and Vitti's bedroom or the inn where the guests are weird to say the least (the scenes in the inn recall those of "la voie lactée,1969).And the ostrich in the couple's room ,we find it back at the zoo,for the finale,when repression rises.When we bury our head in the sand ,French people call it "ostrish politics"! Bunuel was a great man.Everything he did is crying to be watched.When the movie was released,probably upset by the huge commercial success ,some critics called it "Bunuel' s holiday homework".Time proved them wrong.In 2005,"phantom" is solid as a rock.
Through many episodes with some linking points since 1808 in Toledo
(Spain) to the present days in France, Bunuel presents a delicious
surrealistic satire to the moral and costumes of the hypocrite society,
to the family values and to the church. I liked very much some parts,
like, for example, the hypocrisy of the priests in a hotel, praying for
the health of the father of a guest in a moment, and drinking and
playing cards like gangsters in the next moment. The bourgeoisie family
sat on toilets in the dining room and producing crap while having a
conversation is fantastic, reflecting his opinion about the dominating
class. The little girl that "vanished" for her parents is a great
critics to the behavior of most families. The hypocrisy of the justice,
reflected in the segment of the sniper. It is amazing the
interpretations each segment offers to the viewer through the symbolism
of Bunuel. However, this movie is recommend for very specific
audiences. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "O Fantasma da Liberdade" ("The Phantom of the Liberty")
This is one the great comedies but it's not really a laugh out loud satire. The series of barely interlocking sketches really break down your senses of what you expect from movies. My favorite bits are when a little girl goes along with her parents to the police station to report that she has been missing for some time and when the military is brought into a zoo to keep the people away from the animals. The look on the face of an ostrich almost seems to be one of relief. People can read deeply into the messages of the stories or can just be taken for the fun (one might almost say hip) paradoxes of society. I think Bunuel wants to show that complete freedom is impossible because even if you are willing to detach from everybody and everything, you still have your own inner-nature to answer to. **** out of ****
Luis Bunuel's "Le Phantôme de la liberté" is a movie whose episodes are
only loosely connected, because the watcher is a part of the society
whose liberty and freedom is a phantom. Moreover, it is man who watches
this movie that also creates the story not on the screen, of course,
but in her or his mind. This is a movie that does never go out of your
The clue scene is in the episode where Margaret Mead's books are mentioned. And in fact, since this movie deals with liberty and with persons of very different cultural, religious and aesthetic backgrounds, it is a sociological movie. It was Mead who gave the direction to the late cybernetician Heinz von Foerster's (1911-2002) work: Second-order cybernetics. It is called "second order" because this theory has an environment in which subject and object have a space of liberty. Only in such an environment-based logic it is possible to reflect to oneself. And this is exactly what happened in Bunel's core-scene: The teacher speaks to his students that laws have exceptions because they are depending on man, and man is depending on evolution. Therefore, there can be no laws at all, because they also stay and fall with evolution. And if they are no laws at all, then they are no causal relations. And if there are no causal relations, then form and function vanish, exactly like in Bunuel's movie. But the most important point is that this conclusion is reflected in the movie itself. The teacher who makes this self-reflection moreover has much in common with Bunuel, so for example, when he criticizes the standard level of human life in Spain as Bunuel did in an interview.
Another interesting point is that the physician's name is Dr. Pasolini. Bunuel's movie was released in 1974, thus just at the time when Pier Paolo Pasolini started to film his last work "Salo", in which (amongst many other marvelous events) there is the famous or infamous scene where people are forced to eat faeces. But faeces play an important role in Bunuel's "Phantom of Liberty" (so the English title of this movie), too: The teacher explains his friends how many kilograms of faeces a human produces daily, and since there are so and so many billions of people on this world, this makes so and so many tons of faeces per year. Then, the teacher has lunch in the restroom (one of the most famous scenes of this movie). And finally, in his regular bar, the teacher explains the girl who resembles to his sister that this sister died because her intestines exploded. This three-times occurrence of faeces, the mentioning of Pasolini and the insight that form and function must abolish only because of human evolution leads the critical watcher to a conclusion about the sociology of human life that is not too far away form that of Pasolini: All mankind is able to produce is faeces.
Although Bunuel made one more movie ("Cet obscur object du désir", in 1977), he considered the "Pantom of Libery" his testament. Pasolini's testament was the "Salo". Bunuel still lived nine more years after his "Phantom", Pasolini was killed shortly after the postproduction of "Salo". Pasolini was radical and consistent, Bunuel still had kept his sense of humor (the "Phantom" ranges under "comedy", at least officially). Perhaps in the end, it was the humor that let Bunuel alive, while its absence killed Pasolini. Or was Bunuel's humor gallows humor? He drank himself to death.
Luis Bunuel's final film from an original screenplay (by him and
collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere), The Phantom of Liberty, befuddled
me so much more than the other Bunuel films I've seen that I had to
turn it off after twenty minutes, thinking I'd get back to it at some
point. I finally did, and it turns out to be maybe not one of Bunuel's
absolute best, but it has many memorable moments in his twilight years
as a surrealist master. The strange thing is about this film, and I've
come to realize it more after seeing Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
again recently (my favorite feature length film of his), is that there
is such a line that is walked, like a tightrope walker holding an
elephant in one hand and a thumbnail in the other, that one wonders
whether this should be taken totally seriously or just with the general
hysteria and (crucially) absurdism that laces much of Bunuel's work in
his post Mexico period. Sometimes, much like with The Exterminating
Angel, it's a little frustrating, even once one understands that having
no structure to the film is the point.
For example, in one of the segments that make up the film's loose structure, a woman is visiting a group of Priests out in a house on the outskirts. Much of this sequence is rather serious, dealing with a young man's lusting for an older woman, the rousings and thoughts of the old priests...and then it suddenly, finally, breaks up the tension with an S&M gag! This is very tricky ground that Bunuel covers in the film, and for the most part he ends up pulling it off. At times I wondered if a film like this would work in other hands. It wouldn't; there's a sense of pacing that makes the film seem rather serious, but (as it says on the back of the original video box) it owes as much to Monty Python as it does to the old-school 20's surrealism that got Bunuel up off his feet and into the cinema scene. Sometimes I laughed cause I felt terribly uncomfortable, other times because there was a real pay-off. But in reality, the Phantom of Liberty is the kind of film where many times you just stare and go 'huh, what'? And I mean that as a compliment.
By the way, the film also has two other interesting factors to note, one about an "infamous" scene that did leave me laughing hard, and another more of historical note. The scene where the rich people sit around the table, toilets as their seats, pants down, doing their business, is true absurdism at a peak of intelligence. The other note is that if you wonder if this structure has ever been repeated or expounded upon, Richard Linklater's first film Slacker comes closest, though with a much different tone and style of comedy. Here, we get the upper class, religion, old-time armed forces (gotta love that statue slap the guard in the 19th century segment), and the struggle between keeping with dreams or reality, or both. This is the kind of film that almost puts me off with its irreverence, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't stunned and amazed by the audaciousness as well.
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