Saturday, January 9, 2010

Amongst the Bombings and The Carnival

What a cock tease, I so incorrectly thought while getting through the first thirty minutes or so of Luis Bunuel's That Obscure Object of Desire. And finally, some boobs. And at last maybe they're going to do it, but. I finally got what the whole thing was about a bit too late, which isn't saying much for my supposed contemporary sensibilities. Bunuel once said his films "would" reveal that we "do not live in the best of all possible worlds." In other words, we don't live so much as let social constructs control us. I felt so disgusted with myself for wondering when Conchita was going to give it up once I realized, why should she have to? How odd that a film made in 1977 was asking the same thing: just because a man wants something, just because that thing is coquettish, does he deserve to have it? (The title of the first version of this film, directed in 1935 by Josef von Sternberg and starring Marlene Dietrich, was The Devil Is a Woman). Mathieu wants to "possess" her so badly that he doesn't even notice that she's two different people, tries to buy her from her mother, and later beats her up and frightens her so badly that she urinates in her clothing. On the other hand, why does she ask for a home from him, why does she dance naked for tourists, and why does she pretend to fuck someone else in front of him, why does she constantly toy with him? Her mind games are quite difficult to engage and I was somewhat just as frustrated with her as Mathieu is. In the background are the apocalyptic explosions of terrorists' bombings.

It is no small coincidence (aw shit, am I always saying that? Art is connected to timing!) that I watched That Obscure Object of Desire, Bunuel's last film, a few days after watching Fellini's late period City of Women. Both films host their confrontations of gender politics in strange settings, the first under the threat of constant terror bombings and the second in a burlesque-type of carnival. (Could we say one man's embrace of Socialism and another's fear of facism?) The carnival setting depicts, both graciously and gratuitously, the changing role of women. The carnival setting is perfect for the lead role, a womanizer, who finds himself trapped in the middle of a feminist convention. Where Bunuel is dark and heady, Fellini is playful. The lead, played by Marcello Mastroianni, talks to himself throughout the film; at the convention the women are having provocative discussions as well as putting on plays and trying to create positive words to describe the vagina--just to name a few examples. One thing Fellini's films almost always show is how easily available sex for men, and how remorselessly so. We cannot deny that Fellini's carnival and circus settings hint at nostalgia, with indirect undertones of rascal jocularity, but the carnival setting offers the exuberant chorus of many women speaking out together and it couldn't be anything but beautiful, funny, interesting, weird, and loud.

If I never get to the bottom of what exactly both films were trying to say, I'm more or less cool with that. Both films created unforgettable cinematic moments and accomplished what I can't do for you here... they made me feel what it was like to witness women vibrantly changing the entire social landscape.

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