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That Obscure Object of Desire

The final film from the 77-year-old Luis Bunuel shows the playful director in as outrageous form as ever, casting two women--the graceful Carole Bouquet and the saucy Angela Molina--in the role of Conchita, a beautiful but elusive Spanish girl who becomes the object of obsession for Mathieu (Fernando Rey, his voice dubbed into French by Michel Piccoli), an upstanding French businessman. Widowed seven years ago, Mathieu regards love and sex moralistically, priding himself on his ability to count on one hand the number of times he had sex with a woman he didn't love. When he sees Conchita, however, his mind overflows with thoughts of her. Although Conchita professes her love to Mathieu, she leaves him and flees to Switzerland, only to return later as his maid. When Mathieu finally manages to bed her, she is dressed in such an impenetrable outfit (a chastity belt of sorts) that he is unable to satisfy his uncontrollable sexual urge. This straightforward tale of obsessive love is colored with the always amazing Bunuelian touches. Mathieu's story is framed by a train trip in which he speaks of Conchita to his fellow passengers: a French official, a woman and her teenage daughter, and a dwarf psychologist. Also prevalent throughout the picture is a rash of bombings by a terrorist group that calls itself the Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus. The most fascinating aspect of THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE, however, is the character of Conchita, who is exactly what the title promises--so obscure that Bunuel chose to cast two actresses in her role. LAST TANGO IN PARIS star Maria Schneider was originally cast to play Conchita by herself, but she was replaced early in the shooting. In a stroke of genius, Bunuel then cast two women in the same role--a completely logical dualism, since Conchita seems to vary greatly in her feelings for Mathieu, loving him one day and leaving him the next.