Phantom of Liberty

Phantom of Liberty is a surreal comedy about wealthy French people who find themselves in dreamlike and logic defying scenarios. It’s got a cast of Euro-film greats, and you get to see one of the surreal film masters, Luis Bunuel, further experiment and expand the genre that he helped popularize.

What little plot there is consists of a fragmented series of vignettes. None of them get resolved in any meaningful way, some of them get forgotten about, and just about all of them will leave you dumbfounded as to what you just watched. The only recurring aspect is that a side character from one of the vignettes ends up becoming the main character of the next one. It’s an inspired and original format.
“Let me guess, Taco Bell for dinner?”

One thing to keep in mind is that even if the film is considered surreal COMEDY, Phantom is a lot more low key and subtle then you would expect a film that has an ass with arms on it’s poster. Now don’t get me wrong, you still get fat guys doing bondage, statues slapping people, toilets in front of a dinner table, emus wandering into peoples houses, and random sniper murders, but don’t go into this film anticipating the French version of Airplane or you will be disappointed. Humor in this film is entirely dry and has a deliberate pace to it. The tone aims for the cerebral over the slapstick and there are more lengthy stretches where small talk happens compared to actual gags. The gags you get are scarce, spaced out, and often come and go without much notice. This film has some of the strangest and mos sophisticated senses of humor that you will find in any film, but in no way could this be considered a crowd-pleasing film. That and a French Airplane already exists.

Another thing to keep in mind is that even if this film is SURREAL comedy, don’t go in expecting any wild visuals or giant dreamlike set pieces. Luis Bunuel doesn’t make trip movies. His style has always been formal, cold, and even deliberately ugly. The strangeness in this film comes from the lack of logic in human behavior, confusion, and absurd elements.

It portrays mundane drama, and then throws in a case of mistaken identity, red herrings, or out of place elements that are meant to throw you off. Anyone expecting anything crazier than that needs to see another film.
“I shouldn’t have mixed Prozac with Ibuprofen”.

The performances all kind of merge together, because everyone has the same sort of intentionally stiff and formal delivery. The best performance goes to Jean Rochefort as Mr. Legendre, a man just recently diagnosed with cancer, but taking the news almost too well. He understands to perfection the sort of dry as a bone delivery and dialed down comedic timing required to make this film work. His character isn’t any more or less important than the rest of the cast, but for me he was the one who made his segments stand out.
“Fat guys in assless pants. This is definitely a European movie!”

None of the characters really have that much personality. Like the performances, they all kind of meld together to make for a singular statement on bored elitists. There are like pawns locked in a game they can’t win or lose. Like most of his other films, Bunuel seems to show massive amounts of contempt aimed at his characters, and this one is no exception. When they aren’t left in confusion, dying strange deaths, plotting against each other, they are often left seriously miserable. There is no warmth to be found in any of these characters, but considering this film is meant to be a ruthless joke made by one of cinema’s great misanthropes, it fits. Luis Bunuel hates everyone and everybody.
Phantom of Liberty is a challenging, frequently nonsensical, and occasionally depressing mindscrew of a film. It is not an entertaining film, but it is a unique experience that film collectors should consider owning to see a true master at work.  Phantom of Liberty receives 4/5 Guldkameror
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