When I think of a female French redhead, Stéphane Audran immediately comes to mind. That glamourpuss was married to director Claude Chabrol as well as actor Jean-Louis Trintignant. (Though not at the same time!) She is best known outside of France for her role as a virtuoso cook in the 1987 movie ‘Babette’s Feast’. Audran’s singular beauty and finesse have given her a long and prosperous career, rare nowadays for aging actresses. Luis Buñuel noticed her angular facial features and casted her for his cinematic stabbing at the heart of political correctness, ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’ (1972).
In this wacky nod at his surrealistic roots, Buñuel’s attempt to make fun of the middle class is very well calculated. Inspired by his own dreams, the film is one crazy incoherent collage of scenes featuring the next-to-impossible attempts of people with ‘good taste’ to get together to eat fancy meals. Oh yeah, throw some quick orgasms into the story, too.
Even if ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’ is a delirious chaotic examination of the illusion of respectability, Buñuel wasn’t so sure of the end result what with the negative reviews it got. He disliked the promo poster and even commented that his favorite things about the film are the cockroaches! No need to analyze what the bugs represent here: basically, if you want a bourgeois life, you are simply ridiculous.
Buñuel’s last raspberry in the face of respectability was his final film, 1977’s ‘That Obscure Object of Desire’, starring the 20 year-old Carole Bouquet. She plays a loose woman who drives a lovesick older man mad. The poor sap has the hots for her and can’t see clearly through her sexy manipulative scams. I guess she just eats away at him like maggots.
In her heyday, Bouquet represented Chanel (like Catherine Deneuve), was a Bond girl (in ‘For Your Eyes Only’) and at some point dated Gerard Depardieu. Besides being an actress, she was a model, and with no qualms about appearing nude, was in high demand and a constant fixture in ‘Paris Match’ magazine. Today, Bouquet has three husbands under her belt. If she’s not a maneater in real life, she sure was good at portraying one in ‘That Obscure Object of Desire’.
In the film, Bouquet is Conchita, obsessively desired by a man in his fifties, played by Fernando Rey, who can never really have her sexually. The script is based on the novel ‘La femme et le pantin’, first made into a movie in 1929. Marlene Dietrich and Brigitte Bardot later had the chance to portray that nasty femme fatale.
But just to make matters more interesting – and confusing - in Buñuel’s version of the story, Conchita is not only played by Bouquet, but also by another actress, Angela Molina. Well, Buñuel was the maestro of Dadaist decadence and only welcomed the opportunity to fuck with his audiences’ minds. You’d think that crazy decision was premeditated on his part, right? Nope! Here’s what Buñuel wrote in his autobiography:
“In 1977, in Madrid, when I was in despair after a tempestuous argument with an actress who'd brought the shooting of That Obscure Object of Desire to a halt, the producer, Serge Silberman, decided to abandon the film altogether. The considerable financial loss was depressing us both until one evening, when we were drowning our sorrows in a bar, I suddenly had the idea (after two dry martinis) of using two actresses in the same role, a tactic that had never been tried before. Although I made the suggestion as a joke, Silberman loved it, and the film was saved.”
So, does the film work with two women playing the same character? Not really, but considering that it‘s Luis Buñuel we’re talking about and that it was his last film, it kind of makes surreal sense anyway.
Well, I hope my spotlight on Buñuel and a few of his French female stars didn’t bug you too much! Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got a couple of dry martinis waiting for me. Back soon with more stories from the world of Sinemania!