Middle-Class Convention Gets Tweaked


“I’m sick of symmetry,” declares a character early in Luis Buñuel’s penultimate feature, and though the director was never much a stickler for it either, The Phantom of Liberty is his own La Ronde—or his own Monty Python installment. Middle-class convention gets tweaked, deflated, and exploded via a pungent daisy chain of absurdist commedia dell’arte, stocked with blasphemous Napoleonic soldiers, tipsy monks, ostriches in the boudoir, and a kitten with a whip. An anthology of Buñuelian themes—the tyranny of decorum, the arbitrariness of convention—the film also adds an anteroom to his pantheon of dinner table insurrections; suffice to say it revises the axiom “Don’t shit where you eat.” Buñuel’s bourgies, with ostrichy obstinacy, refuse to see what is plainly in front of them, be it dirty pictures, a “missing” child, or a lover’s body. Albeit scattershot, Phantom does cohere as a satire of keeping up appearances in which everything is as it appears. Extras include an essay by Gary Indiana and a video introduction by screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (who recently co-wrote Birth).