Quick Film Guide: The Phantom of Liberty (Luis Bunuel, 1974)

Le Fantôme de la liberté
Directed by Luis Bunuel
France, Italy

Luis Bunuel followed his Oscar-winning film, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie with another gem of surrealist cinema: The Phantom of Liberty. Here, he explores the idea that humans are trapped by social codes and structures and, as the title suggests, that freedom is just an illusion.

The Phantom of Liberty is inspired by events from Bunuel’s own life, though each is altered and distorted, and featured within a narrative Susan Suleiman suggested as based on “a principle of infinite suspension.” It moves forward via the chance encounters of its diverse cast of eccentric characters, and every sequence is suspended by the intervention of yet another sequence, with many of them left unresolved.

Thus, the film’s narrative structure is integral to the filmmaker’s final message that freedom exists in the imagination. In other words, it is the narrative form Bunuel employs that suggests that imagination is the thing that allows us to knock down the structures we’re trapped in. This is not only represented by the way in which The Phantom of Liberty knocks down narrative conventions, but also in the way it represents such taboo subjects as pedophilia, execution, incest, religion and more.

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Quick Film Guide: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Bunuel, 1972)

Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie
Directed by Louis Bunuel
France, Italy, Spain

Luis Bunuel had aged like a fine wine. In 1972, he delivered one of his greatest masterpieces since 1926’s L’Age d’Or: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. This is an inventive surrealist romp complete with dream sequences and unexpected turns that ranks highly in the director’s filmography.

The film doesn’t follow a standard narrative structure, following the attempts of six members of the upper-middle class to have a sophisticated dinner together. Every time, however, their plan is thwarted by circumstances and events each stranger and more absurd than the next.

Bunuel seems to have reached a point in his career where he has fewer reservations about what he says through his films and it is interesting to see him openly attack a large portion of his own arthouse audience. This is perhaps why, to this day, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is defined as “funny,” with less consideration about how frightening and bitter it is.

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