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The Phantom of Liberty (Criterion Collection) (Version française)

Jean-Claude Brialy , Adolfo Celi , Luis Buñuel    R (Restricted)   DVD

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Any serious lover of film eventually (if not immediately) succumbs to the genius of Luis Bunuel. The bottomless wit and unsentimental clear-sightedness of the Spanish master is evident throughout his career, but Bunuel has the added bonus of never tapering off, never losing his edge. The Phantom of Liberty was produced when Bunuel was in his mid-70s, and it's as hilariously impertinent as anything he ever made. Along with his (and anybody's) key collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere, Bunuel strings together a series of reverse-logic dreams and surrealist blackouts, which flow from one to another without building into anything like a conventional storyline.

A nurse at an inn is sidetracked by a foursome of poker-playing priests, while an S&M couple down the hall invite everyone to their room for a drink and a show; a sit-down party has guests seated on toilets around a table; a police commissioner receives a phone call from his dead sister. None of it makes sense, except that it makes absolute sense. By the time a little girl is reported missing by her frantic parents, despite the fact that she is manifestly with them in schoolroom and police station, the film has entered the zone where comedy and unnerving observations come together in a perfect way. Many top European actors participate in this exercise, including Michel Piccoli, Monica Vitti, Jean Rochefort, and Jean-Claude Brialy. Perhaps the format limits the film from gaining the resonance of latter Bunuel films such as The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie or That Obscure Object of Desire, but it's a marvelous surrealist variety show. --Robert Horton


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exhilarating satirical surrealist show from Luis Buñuel Oct. 1 2005
By Kenji Fujishima - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
I'm told by fellow film enthusiasts that Buñuel's later films do not show this Spanish master at his best, that his earliest films---his famous collaborations with Salvador Dalí, for instance---show an edgier, more fascinating Buñuel. Whatever. I saw his 1974 film THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY for the first time recently, and I immediately fell in love with it. There are those who swear by his more popular 1972 Oscar-winner THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, but somehow I think THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY is even more entertaining than DISCREET CHARM.

There is no plot to speak of in PHANTOM: this film is basically a collection of surrealist sketches that finds Buñuel playing with all kinds of different ideas and different images. Monks pray for a woman's sick father, and then play poker with the woman and smoke. A group of people sit around a dinner table on toilets, and go to the bathroom to eat in private. Two parents desperately try to find their missing daughter---even though she's right there in class when they call her name. In the universe Buñuel concocts in THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY, anything goes.

The amazing thing about this movie is that, instead of seeming like an irrational series of surrealistic sketches, THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY has a broad theme to support its free-form structure: it's Buñuel's comic vision of freedom run amuck. Sure, the idea of liberty is appealing to everyone...but, as Buñuel seems to be suggesting, even freedom has its limits. The opening scene of the movie is set in Toledo, Spain in 1808, as Napoleon's troops attempt to liberate the Spanish and are greeted with cries of "Down with liberty!" There can be times when we want the assurance of authority, rather than the freedom to act in whatever way we please.

Buñuel doesn't take a stand one way or the other, really; he's just an artist who is intrigued by the idea, and his interest fuels the free-form structure of the film, and its content. Almost anything and everything he can think of---within the bounds, I suppose, of the same themes he covered throughout his long and illustrious film career---is thrown into this movie, and while some viewers may perhaps prefer the comfort of a movie with some structure, I found its elegant chaos exhilarating.

Only a master filmmaker who had absolute confidence in what he was doing would dare make a movie like this. I think Buñuel pulls it off triumphantly here; somehow, he makes the movie seem almost logical, the way it progresses. THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY is a sheer delight. Highly recommended.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "On a flimsy ground of reality, imagination spins out and waves new patterns." March 15 2007
By Galina - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
This excellent collection of satirical vignettes is my kind of movie - crazy, dark and comical, it goes any direction it wants and does not follow any rules. When we try to grasp for the meaning, it is like a ghost, a phantom that "leaves us with a wisp of vapor in our hands" and disappears - very much like the liberty, the freedom the humans try to find but instead could only see its phantom disappearing. The film follows many characters on its way shifting effortlessly and playfully from the central ones to the minor ones making minor ones the central and going back and forth from one time period to another. It opens in Toledo during the Napoleonic occupation then jumps to the modern day Paris. It could've gone anywhere and introduced me to any character - it still would've been enormously interesting because it was made by the master who had never lost his curiosity, his inquisitive mind, his memory that consisted of the strange and amazing images, his sense of humor, his childhood dreams, his fantasies, dark and shining and who was able to throw them all on the screen like no one ever was able or will be able to do. To understand Bunuel completely would be as impossible as to catch the Phantom of Liberty - he will be always one of the best and unsolved mysteries in the Art of Cinema.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spectre of Marx Jan. 29 2007
By blockhed - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
Harpo, Chico and Groucho, that is, more than Karl. Amusing and entertaining through and through, but not the pinnacle of Bunuel, which, in my eyes, is Tristana. But I've only seen 6 or 7 of his films. The extra feature, The Celebration of Chance, is invaluable. Bunuel's works are greatly helped by the commentaries of Jean-Claude Carriere. Carriere remarks that the title is an allusion to Marx. The truth is that the pursuit of liberty (or the idea that it can ever be attained) is, and has to be, illusory; and the movie medium actually accentuates the doomed nature of the search. No matter how much you twist and turn, invert the world, run counter to convention and reverse reality, the prison which fetters human perceptions can never be escaped. This is not exactly new. In fact there is a passage in one of Lewis Carroll's lesser known works, where the crowd shouts something like: Longer hours! Worse pay! Illogic has always had its adherents, and the non-sequitur has been known for centuries. Bunuel enjoyed the freedom in this film to do exactly what he wanted, and in one sense it is an expression of the fact that even with this freedom, to ignore plot, character development, cause and effect, the movie-maker is still constrained --- by something. The wish to produce a work of art, perhaps? Taken to its absurd extreme, the artist would end up in total solitude creating a work which he instantly destroys. The film has to be seen, however, and the one star has only been removed by a personal desire to be perverse. Wonderful cinematography, perfect performances, superb scenes and dialogue.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are we really liberated? June 10 2005
By Stalwart Kreinblaster - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
Bunuel turns things upside down in this social critique which, surely, ranks as one of his most effective films. While this film drifts through the surreal world we would expect of Bunuel - the commentary it makes is indeed serious and quite thought provoking. If we, as viewers, are shocked or find humor in the scenes of this film we should stop and ask ourselves - Are we as liberated as we think we are? If you find using the toilet in front of your friends and going off to eat in private absurd - you are not the open minded person you think you are.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ostrich... Sept. 8 2007
By Grigory's Girl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
This film is my favorite of Bunuel's work. It's similar to a full length Monty Python episode, except it's in French, and the women are much better looking. It's very funny, surreal (of course), and strange, yet it makes a great deal of sense. The scene where people defecate in public and eat in private is hilarious, the scene where the priest gives children normal cards to play with, but the adults think they're pornographic is great too. The monks playing poker is quite a vivid image as well. Does this all make sense? Of course it does. All of Bunuel's films make sense in their own way. The final shot of an ostrich is a great way to end this film. I remember showing Bunuel's final film, That Obscure Object of Desire, to my sister, and as open minded as she is, she hated the film and the ending. She probably would have hated the ostrich ending in this one. For those who think Richard Linklater's Slacker was great should watch this film. The story structure (such as it is) of Slacker is exactly like the one here. Slacker is a good film, but The Phantom of Liberty is far superior. I love later Bunuel. This film, Discreet Charm, and Viridiana are my favorite Bunuel films...
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