ENG 282: International Film Studies student response
That Obscure Object of Desire, written and directed by Luis Bunuel, and released in the U.S. in 1977, is a surreal expression of how a man is blinded by his lust for a woman. In this example Mathieu, played by Fernando Rey, is used by Conchita, played by both Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina, to gain intel for and finance the Spanish terrorist organization The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, or RAIJ.
The first clue is seen in the beginning of the movie when Mathieu returns to his hotel room after purchasing his train ticket. The camera focuses on his laundry bag being carried presumably to his car. You will see this bag again in close proximity to other terrorist attacks throughout the movie. The first terrorist attack we see takes place in front of the hotel where Mathieu is staying as a man enters a car to be driven to the bank. If you pay attention you will see that the car closely resembles the car that Mathieu is in when the bomb goes off, and does not even remotely resemble any other car in the scene. I suggest the bomb was meant for Mathieu in retaliation or to remove any connections that could be made between him and Conchita. When the RAIJ realize their mistake, they send Conchita to the train station to re-establish contact with Mathieu. Notice that someone has tended to her injuries. You then have to ask why would a woman who has just been raped return to the man who raped her if not for some sinister reason. If she truly wanted to be with him, I believe she would not have left the hotel in the first place.
The significance of the terrorist connection is further emphasized as Mathieu tells his story to his fellow passengers and explains why he dumped the water on her head. He begins by telling them about the terrorist who are on trial and his conversation with his cousin the prosecuting attorney in the case. Their conversation begins with his cousin telling him how the terrorist priest and the three others only received eight year prison terms for their activities because he believes the jury members had received death threats. We find out later that Conchita’s mother spends all her time at church, probably the same church as the terrorist priest. It only makes sense to me that the terrorist would want to move in closer to the prosecuting attorney by either gaining intel through Mathieu, sending a message to his cousin by killing Mathieu, or making it easier to kill the cousin himself.
The RAIJ probably had been watching Mathieu and decided the best way to infiltrate his life was to send a young beautiful woman that they knew he could not resist to become one of his servants. This would give Mathieu a false sense of control making him easy pickings. Mathieu noticed that she had never worked with her hands and was not knowledgeable about which glass should be used for the particular type of wine being served. If she truly came from an affluent family as she later claims, she would have been well versed on proper table etiquette. This would have been the perfect opportunity for a terrorist agent to gain intel about what the prosecutor was thinking because he was in an environment in which he was comfortable and would speak more freely as people often do in conversation over meals.
I find it suspicious that Conchita would have left without her wages if she and her mother were in such dire straits. I think she left because she had gathered the information she needed and had baited the trap for Mathieu. The next scene we find Mathieu in Switzerland on a business trip. He is taking a walk in a park when three men ambush him and rob him of 800 francs. These guys looked like they knew what they were doing. Next we find him having breakfast, and out of the clear blue, who happens to show up but Conchita. She feeds him some sob story about how her troupe had been abandoned by their manager and only needed the money for the trip home. This is where I find gaping holes in her story. Back at his house where they first met she told him that her dancing was no way for her to make money, but here she is coincidently in the same foreign country, and in the exact same city working as a dancer in a traveling act? She tries to give the money back like poor little old honest me, my conscience wont let me keep it, knowing he would not take it because he is infatuated with her. Of course he doesn’t take the money, and asks her to stay at this lavish hotel for free for a few more days. She says she can’t because she has to return to her starving mother. My question is what was her mother going to do if poor Conchita had been stuck in Switzerland for a few more days if her story were true, eat her shoes for sustenance? I suggest the RAIJ sees an opportunity in Mathieu to fund their operations in France out of his misguided generosity to Conchita. I contend that Conchita’s mother was not her mother at all but another RAIJ operative involved in the rouse to extort money from Mathieu.
The rest of the movie continues to provide many more tortuous examples of Mathieu’s blindness as he tries to get into Conchita’s pants, all along playing right into the RAIJ’s hands. Some of these include the gratuitous amount of money he gives her so-called mother, who he remarks that he does even have to see. So who knows where the money is going. The terrorist attacks that just coincidently follow Conchita around the continent of Europe. The safe-house he buys them in Spain. In this scene I believe this is first time Conchita is actually being honest with him. Even up until the very last scene where she attempts to assassinate Mathieu by placing another bomb in his laundry bag. In this scene she casually steps away from him just as the bomb is about to go off, praying it will kill him so she can be free of his molesting advances. I think you can see the hatred and loathing she really has for him in the expression on her face as she turns to walk away after she realizes he is no longer standing in front of the window. Bunuel does not let you see what happens next, but since we do not see any bodies, I can only speculate that his luck allows him yet to live another day.
That Obscure Object of Desire. Dir. Luis Bunuel, Perfs. Fernando Rey, Carole Bouquet, Angela Molina. 1977. DVD. Criterion Collection, 2001.