Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Film review: LE FANTÔME DE LA LIBERTÉ (Luis Buñuel, 1974)

The third and final film of Luis Buñuel's triptych of movies which feature little plot and a lot of visual sight gags, Le Fantôme de la Liberté neatly ties off what La Voie lactée and Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie started. Like the other two films, Le Fantôme de la Liberté consists of short, surreal sketches that follows a series of peripherally connected characters are their lives are peppered with all manner of curio, and in the name of decorum, the characters are completely blasé these bizarre occurrences, which just makes them weirder.

A creepy man distributes photographs to young girls. We assume these to be seedy, as he tells them to show friends but not parents, and indeed, when the parents discover them, they are disgusted. But the pictures actually turn out to be nothing more than photos of historical landmarks. Later, another little girl, declared missing, is actually present and well, and at the police station to aid an officer as he fills in her missing person report.

A chap who kills passers-by is hailed as some kind of celebrity at his court-hearing, with adoring fans begging for his autograph. A group of monks are invited to dine with a couple, who all of a sudden strip into latex and embark on some whipping in front of them. And perhaps most startlingly, a group of bourgeois families sit together at a dinner table to go to the toilet in each other's presence, occasionally excusing themselves to go into a private room, to eat.

There’s cinematic badinage of Le Fantôme de la Liberté boasts far greater variety than the other two films in the trio. Buñuel’s ability to synthesise them all into a collective unit illustrates his adroit ability to deliver narrative, even in an oeuvre that largely lacks one. The sight gags are wittier, and the film revels in its bizarreness, which means the audience doesn’t feel any obligation to invest themselves in the plot or the characters, which I have done in previous films, only to have the rug pulled from under me, and thus, felt frustrated by the director.

Possibly an artefact of 1972’s Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie picking up the Foreign Language film Oscar, Buñuel’s follow-up is far less accessible and crowd-pleasing. But I preferred Le Fantôme de la Liberté precisely because it lacks a slightly grandstanding element that its predecessors have. Le Fantôme de la Liberté definitely feels like one of his most personal works, despite (or because?) of all the degenerates you meet in it. 

The fact that there isn’t a specific target of satire as La Voie lactée and Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie had (Christianity and the middle class, respectively), per se, rather that free will, a much more abstract idea is the object of this film, means the director has far more scope to unbridle his anarchic vision upon. The episodes he confects span humour that ranges from the bizarre to the sublime.

While the plot sprawls, there is nothing ad-hoc about Buñuel’s tight direction, with each unsettling vignette modulating into the next with such fluidity that before the audience have time to dwell too deeply on the previous story arc, they’re immersed into a new one.

The main thesis of these chaotic scenes, that humans are predominantly irrational agents, and personal autonomy is purely a hoax, is intriguing; a theory given more resonance in the wake of ongoing current affairs. 



I've now reviewed all eight DVDs in my Buñuel box set. Read the others here.

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