The Phantom of Liberty (Le Fantôme de la liberté) [DVD]
Director : Luis Buñuel
Screenplay : Luis Buñuel & Jean-Claude Carrière
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1974
Stars : Adriana Asti (Sister of the 1st police commissioner), Julien Bertheau (1st police commissioner), Jean-Claude Brialy (M. Foucauld), Adolfo Celi (M. Legendre’s physician), Anne-Marie Deschott (Mlle Rosenblum), Paul Frankeur (Innkeeper), Pierre Lary (The sniper), Michel Lonsdale (The hatter), François Maistre (Police academy instructor), Muni (The Foucaulds’ nursemaid), Hélène Perdrière (The old aunt), Michel Piccoli (The 2nd police commissioner), Claude Piéplu (Chief of police), Jean Rochefort (M. Legendre), Bernard Verley (French army captain), Monica Vitti (Mme Foucauld), Miléna Vukotic (Nurse)
As cowriter Jean-Claude Carrière notes in a brief excerpt from a 2000 interview on the new Criterion Collection DVD of The Phantom of Liberty (Le Fantôme de la liberté), master surrealist and provocateur Luis Buñuel was essentially given free reign when making it because his previous film, 1972’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, directed when he was 74 years old, had won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The result is one of Buñuel’s most narratively unconventional films, stringing together a series of loosely connected vignettes that focus on various illogical situations and absurdities. It is clearly one of the most surreal films he had made since the beginning of his artistic endeavors in the late 1920s, although it is not particularly provocative, despite the overt criticisms of everything from the middle class, to the church, to the military.
In fact, if anything, The Phantom of Liberty plays like a Buñuel greatest hits platter, once again spinning the usual suspects into a surreal world where the joke is squarely on them. Buñuel and Carrière, who had already collaborated on five films, beginning with 1964’s Diary of a Chambermaid, dive headfirst into the dreamlike logic of the surreal, eschewing narrative arcs, cause and effect, and understandable human behavior. When one character announces suddenly that he is sick of symmetry, the line might just as well have come from Buñuel’s mouth directly.
The Phantom of Liberty is first and foremost comedy -- a frequently hilarious one -- that derives its laughs by consistently going against the expected. Buñuel’s actors play everything decidedly straight, as if nothing is at all wrong with fancy dinner guests pulling down their trousers and hiking up their skirts to sit at toilets around a dining room table, ascetic monks playing poker and betting their religious icons, or a prim and proper husband and wife being simultaneously appalled and aroused by photographs of landscapes and European monuments.
There is a lightness and playfulness to the film that marks it in contrast to Buñuel’s earlier works, such as Un chien andalou (1929), which above all sought to shock and repel. In his old age, Buñuel mellowed in his tone, albeit not in his subject matter; social hypocrisy and the purely arbitrary nature of civilized life are still his primary targets. This is not to say that The Phantom of Liberty doesn’t have any sting; in fact, some of the film’s segments have a defiantly nasty bite to them, particularly one about a sniper who picks off people at random from the top of an office building and is later swarmed by fans wanting his autograph when he is released (even though he was convicted). The senselessness of human violence snakes throughout the film, as does our twisted fascination with it. The sniper story surely resonated with particular force in the Vietnam era, only a decade after the Kennedy assassination, and it has an entirely different (though no less powerfully upsetting) slant in the era of school shootings and terrorism (a topic Buñuel exploited brilliantly in 1977’s The Obscure Object of Desire).
The title The Phantom of Liberty is, according to Buñuel, a nod to Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto, but it’s more interesting to think of it as a relatively arbitrary title. After all, almost any other word could be substituted for Liberty -- Morals, Society, Relationships, Love -- and convey the same sense of the human need to delude itself into a sense of rationality. Buñuel saw the world as a dream, and he made films accordingly. To try to make sense of The Phantom of Liberty, to dig out a moral or a message or a connecting theme, is an exercise in absurdity that only Buñuel himself could possibly top.
|The Phantom of Liberty Criterion Collection DVD|
|Audio||French Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||May 24, 2005|
|The new high-definition anamorphic widescreen transfer of The Phantom of Liberty was taken from the original 35mm interpositive and then digitally restored with the MTI Digital Restoration System. The resulting image is excellent -- very clean and well detailed, although the colors appear somewhat faded, which may be how the film has always looked. There is a slight graininess to the image, particularly in the darker scenes, but this is inherent to the look of the film.|
|The monaural soundtrack, mastered from the optical print track, sounds fine.|
|While two previous Criterion releases of Buñuel films, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and That Obscure Object of Desire, were packed with supplements, this DVD of The Phantom of Liberty is a bit light. The disc is billed as including an “introduction” by coscreenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, but it is really a five-minute excerpt from a video interview recorded in 2000. Carrière briefly discusses writing the script with Buñuel and what they were trying to accomplish (his favorite bit is the story about the parents looking for the lost child who is with them the whole time). Other than that, the only supplements are an original theatrical trailer and an insert booklet that contains an essay by film scholar Gary Indiana and a reprinted essay with Buñuel.|
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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