Le fantôme de la liberté (1974)


(director/writer: Luis Bunuel; screenwriter: Jean-Claude Carriere; cinematographer: Edmond Richard; editor: Helene Plemianikov; cast: Michel Piccoli (Second Prefect), Julien Bertheau (First Prefect), Claude Piéplu (Commissioner), Jean Rochefort (Lost Girl’s Father), Michel Lonsdale (Hatter), Milena Vukotic (Nurse), Monica Vitti (Mrs. Foucauld), Jean-Claude Brialy (Mr. Foucauld), Bernard Verley (Captain), Adriana Asti (Prefect’s Sister); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Serge Silberman; The Criterion Collection; 1974-France-with English subtitles)
Bunuel’s most uninhibited venture though audacious and satisfying my Bunuel pangs, lacks a bite or enough charm to appeal to the masses.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The penultimate film of Luis Bunuel (“Diary of a Chambermaid“/”L’Age D’Or“/”The Milky Way”) is an uneven, playful, plotless, surrealist drama consisting of a series of bizarre vaguely related episodes that begins with French firing squad executions from Toledo in 1808, during the Napoleonic era, and Spanish patriots shouting “Down with liberty!” and a French officer literally falling madly in love with a statue of a saint. It ends in modern-day Paris as riot police suppress a revolt and a dead woman phones her brother to offer him solace. The most remembered vignette has elegant dinner guests seated on individual lavatories around a table and when ready they excuse themselves to eat their meal in a small room behind a locked door. Other strange scenes include a bourgeois husband and father (Jean-Claude Brialy), who upsets the glass frame display of a large spider on his mantlepiece and states emphatically: “I’m sick of symmetry.” He’s also in the habit of waking up every hour to find a strange new visitor in his bedroom: a rooster, followed by an ostrich, and, also, a bicycling postman delivering a letter. Another strange episode has an attractive nurse (Milena Vukotic) check into an inn. Before going to bed, monks enter her room and offer her religious relics. Then they play poker. This is followed by a sadomasochist couple entering the room and performing a sex show. In the room next to them, a young man is reminiscing with his elderly aunt about the wonderful times they had together when he was a boy. After he caresses her hands tenderly and, then over her objections, he pulls back the covers of the bed she’s lying in and miraculously a well-preserved naked body is somehow revealed.

Its title refers to the Karl Marx phrase “the phantom of liberty.” Co-written by Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere, the writers declare that most people shun freedom because of a fear of it. Bunuel’s view is that most people choose to bury their head in the sand rather than face the realities of life.

The shocker rails against hypocritical middle-class virtues and is comically disturbing, but a fault might be that it takes aim on too easy targets. Bunuel’s most uninhibited venture though audacious and satisfying my Bunuel pangs, lacks a bite or enough charm to appeal to the masses.