Directed by: Luis Buñuel (Tristana)
Starring: Adriana Asti, Julien Bertheau, Jean-Claude Brialy, Adolfo Celi, Milena Vukotic
Apart from the inevitable college screening of Un Chien Andalou (1927), my first acquaintance with Luis Buñuel was made in 1982 at the 47th Street Theater in New York City with a double bill of The Phantom of Liberty (1974) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). I’m not sure a more complete full-immersion-Buñuel experience is possible. Whether or not that makes Phantom a good starting point, I don’t know. But it’s pretty certain that if you don’t like Phantom, you’re probably not going to like Buñuel very much at all. Like its more famous counterpart, Discreet Charm, it rails against the bourgeoisie, but it adds an extra level of vitriol for all bureaucratic agencies, and it jettisons narrative in favor of mere structure. That’s to say that there’s no story, merely a series of vignettes that are only slightly connected (often just physically), but which work their way back around to a reflection of the film’s beginning.
As is often the case with Buñuel at his most outrageous, it’s all rather playfully done. Put simply, here’s a movie that starts with a Napoleonic officer snacking on communion wafers, getting fresh with a statue of a woman, then getting coldcocked by the statue of her husband, after which the officer attempts statuary revenge by way of taking the lady’s corpse to his bedchamber. If this appeals to you, so might the film. There’s no payoff to that opening, by the way. Instead, there’s a digression in modern times about the meaning of the word “paraphernalia,” followed by two young girls encountering an apparent child molester who gives them “dirty” postcards that turn out to be scenic views. Toss in a cassowary (or maybe an emu; I’m no ornithologist) crossing a bedroom and you have a pretty good idea that anything can happen. It’s wild, angry and often very funny.
The Phantom of Liberty, part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World, will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, June 6, at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. Info: 273-3332.