The Phantom of Liberty (Luis Buñuel, 1974)


Le_Fantôme_de_la_liberté

The films of Luis Buñuel have always been close to my heart. A Spaniard in Paris and briefly Mexico, Buñuel personified the artist wanting to break free from the shackles of tradition of his homeland; whether it is Catholicism, the repressive family, or political apathy. For a Filipino who was colonized by Spain then saturated with Hollywood movies, Buñuel could provide a sensible alternative to the way of viewing cinema and modern society as a whole.

Also, Buñuel has proven that surrealism, as an art movement, is best suited for cinema. I’ve had my share of surrealist paintings, sculptures, read fiction and poetry and they all greatly pleased me. Their perversions, wit, uncompromising characters convinced me that their brand of art, establishment-bashing, is the one that keeps art itself alive. Either you love them or hate them. Surrealism is best for cinema because what it demands from you. Stop everything you’re doing and pay attention. Cinema spoon feeds you, the story, the color, the music, everything is there. People expect cinema to provide logic, coherence, their dreams fulfilled. Luis Buñuel turns this dreamscape into a carnival.

From the standpoint of Un Chien Andalou (1929), with The Phantom of Liberty, Buñuel evidently has come a long way. Scholars say that the various scenes and stories in the movie is based on several experiences of Buñuel (Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams(1990) comes to mind). Knowing their contexts would be helpful, but not necessary to enjoy the film. The stories and characters speak for themselves; from clergy or monks gambling, to a young man in love with his aunt, to a bourgeois couple looking for their daughter that wasn’t really lost. Transition between subplots is playfully added, this would seem to be an effort towards formal story telling but I think Buñuel is making a bigger joke.

The Phantom of Liberty is France in the 70s, but it endures. It doesn’t capitalize on the setting, the period or reality for that matter. Buñuel is a must watch for Filipinos and anyone who loves sly and intelligent humor. I think at the present, we are in dire need of this kind of art.

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