The Phantom of Liberty
November 3, 2005
Luis Bunuel claimed in an interview that his film, The Phantom of Liberty (1974), “only imitates the mechanisms of chance. It was written in a conscious state; it is neither dream nor a delirious flow of images.” His film defies a traditional narrative structure by being comprised of a series of surreal vignettes, none of which are actual stories themselves but situations.
In 1808, a Napoleonic soldier is smacked upside the head by a stone statue. We then see his story being read by a woman sitting on a bench in present times. A man on the street shows two little girls what we assume are dirty pictures judging from their reactions and those of their parents but they are eventually revealed to be holiday photos. The parents of the girls prepare for bed and are visited by a rooster, a woman dressed in black, a postal worker and an emu.
A young man brings an older woman (who could be his grandmother) to a hotel for a night of passion, talking like forbidden lovers. It turns out that she’s his aunt. He tries to suffocate her with a pillow when she won’t let him see her naked. He leaves the room and meets a man in the hallway who invites him back to his room that is eventually populated by four monks who were playing cards and a husband clad in chaps with his wife dressed in a dominatrix outfit who proceeds to whip him in front of everyone.
Luis Bunuel’s film has a playful quality even if everyone in it is playing their roles straight. He is thumbing his nose at conventional storytelling in a way that makes one wonder if he was a big influence on Monty Python. Their brand of humour has the same kind of absurdist, anarchistic energy to it that Bunuel’s film has – you don’t know whether to be shocked or laugh or both simultaneously. For example, one segment in The Phantom of Liberty features a polite dinner party where everyone sits down on toilets instead of regular seats. In a weird way it kind of makes sense – after all, the food will eventually come out that way sooner or later.
Bunuel’s film never tries to explain what’s going on, leaving it up to the viewer to decide on their own what, if anything has any meaning. This leaves The Phantom of Liberty open to as many unique interpretations as possible.
There is a video introduction by the film’s co-screenwriter John-Claude Carriere. He briefly touches upon his and Bunuel’s intentions with this movie and the challenge writing it.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.