Phantom of Liberty, The (1974)

Bunuel’s absurdly fun penultimate feature seems to have been beamed directly from his unconscious—a provocative, taboo-smashing take on the idiocy of institutions and the irrational lunacy of human beings. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,271

Dir. Luis Bunuel
1974 | France | Drama/Comedy | 103 mins | 1.66:1 | French
M18 (passed clean) for nudity and mature themes

Cast: Jean-Claude Brialy, Adolfo Celi, Michel Piccoli, Monica Vitti, Adriana Asti
Plot: In this illogical series of events, reality disappears and bourgeois convention is demolished.
Source: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Breaking Taboos, Critique of Society
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex/Episodic
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

Following up on his Oscar triumph that was The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), one of the medium’s greatest ever directors summoned his ever imaginative mind to produce an intelligent film about the absurdity and folly of Man. 

Co-written by frequent collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere, Luis Bunuel’s The Phantom of Liberty seems to have been beamed directly from both of their unconscious. 

And indeed, it had been documented that the creators would share their dreams with each other and turn them into a screenplay that follows no narrative logic. 

Don’t expect anything to make sense, let alone any semblance of pronounced narrative or character development as Bunuel gives us a loosely interconnected series of scenes where we follow a character, then another, and then another… there’s no beginning or closure, just the ever-present experience of lucid dreaming I guess. 

“Sometimes faith succeeds where science fails.”

The Phantom of Liberty tackles everything from religion, sexual fetishes, authority to morality in what could be best described as a provocative, taboo-smashing take on the idiocy of institutions and the irrational lunacy of human beings. 

Clearly, Bunuel and Carriere were having absolute fun with their material, featuring amongst an eclectic range of characters alcoholic card-playing monks, a young man with sexual desire for his aunt, a BDSM-practising couple, a serial killer-cum-mini celebrity, and more. 

Yet while the film is irreverent and pointed, the tone of it is cheeky and polite, as if one is nonchalant towards all that is happening but also cognizant of the deeper meanings of each complication. 

It is a testament to Bunuel’s artistry and skill as a filmmaker that he managed to locate with such clarity everything wrong about our world by saying it so damn right.

Grade: A-


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