Opening scene, we see an older Spanish gentleman walking to get to on a train in a train station. He hops on but not before he sees a woman in a white dress rushing after him. He sits down in his carriage, but is not easy. He then talks to conductor, gives him a tip and takes a bucket full of water out of the bathroom. As the woman mounts this train about to leave the station, he pours the bucket of water on her drenching her. His neighbors in the same carriage are mystified by this crazy act and thinks that he must have a very just reason. He sits back and launches into a story about a love affair gone awry. Luis Bunuel takes this farcical beginning and turns it into a clinical portrait of gender relations, perversion and middle class bourgeois problems. It is fascinating to say the least.
Mathieu (the bucket of water throwing gentleman) is a Spanish gentleman of leisure and easy money. He is widowed and has little thoughts about women… that is until he meets Conchita. Conchita is hired by his valet for the maid position in his house. Almost immediately Mathieu looses all control around her and acts like a male oppressive dog. She resists his advances in coquetry way. She leads him on without actually promising anything. She abruptly quits her job there and Mathieu must seek her out and find out where she lives. When he gets to her apartment, he realizes that Conchita is not well off and lives with her mother in a one room apartment in a slum of Paris. All she wants to do is dance. She has no other passion. Mathieu falls head over heels for her and tries to buy her virginity from her mother. She resists even this, refusing to give up her supposed virginity for mere money. They drift apart and reconnect in several different spots only to finally end up in Spain together. This is where Mathieu’s passions come to a climax. He buys her a house and she promises to stop dancing. But the moment she gets the keys, she locks him out and refuses to let him back in. She then forces him to watch her have sex with another man and declares that she will continue to dance naked as long as she likes. Mathieu escapes to his country villa in tatters. Conchita arrives again several days later and tries to apologize to him. She is changeful and abrupt. Mathieu and Conchita have one last confrontation that result in a violent episode. Mathieu escapes to his train and away from Conchita, only to discover she followed him. Their passion for each other is palpable and they walk off into a fiery blaze with each other.
What draws me to Bunuel is simple: I like his odd sense of humor. This isn’t a laugh out loud type of humor. It is instead extremely dark and twisted to the point that you laugh because you don’t know what else to do. He creates characters that are ridiculous in their concerns and lives yet he is able to cast a light on humanity. During the entire time that this story is taking place, there are news stories on the radio, television and right in front of them of prolific terrorist attacks. Yet they seem to not bat an eye at such goings on, wrapped up in their petty concerns as they are. In a ridiculous love affair that should never have started. This story casts a judging light on the viewer him or herself. Right now Gaza is ripping apart, the Ukraine is being bombarded, Iraq is being overrun, and I could care less. I am too distracted by a big decision in my life and all the steps I have to take to know any more than what I catch when I glance at the papers, reddit or the television. I am just as bad as this couple. (Although I have yet to dump a bucket of water on a spurned loved one… but there is always room for one more adventure before I die…)
Bunuel does something interesting with the narrative of this picture. At the beginning of the movie, you are clearly in line with Mathieu’s sentiments mainly because it is being told from his perspective and what Conchita does to him at first seems unnecessarily cruel. He talks of her as being two different women and that manifests itself in having the same character being played by two different actresses. She is one moment a charming and demure young woman and the next she is a vixen bound for his wallet. As the film progresses, however, you realize that Mathieu is not an innocent rube being taken advantage of by this beautiful temptress. He has an equal hand in the corruption of this relationship and Conchita knows that she must tease him and deny him in order to keep her upper hand and ensure her future. It becomes obvious that there are holes in Mathieu’s story, that he is wrapping things to his advantage. By the end of the picture only one thing is for sure: they should not be with each other. They have a terrible relationship. Bunuel is a genius at creating the worst relationships between people. It’s almost like he has had a lot of practice (cough Dali cough).