The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) Directed by Luis Bunuel is a peculiar amalgamation of vignettes in the lives of three bourgeois couples, a priest, and a colonel. In almost every brief encounter the characters are attempting to sit down and have a meal together, but time and time again they are interrupted for one reason or another. There are also several dream sequences cut intermittently throughout the piece. Bunuel does what he wants in a film, and that is what makes his movies so unique, he does not hold anything back. The film has enumerable layers that are impossible to decipher, and I am not so sure they are even meant to be.

The film is Bunuel’s assault on bourgeois society in his usual farcical manner. One of the most blatant digs at the artificiality of high society is a dream sequence in which the whole group is seated at a table which ends up being part of a play. The sequence ends with the man who is dreaming saying “I can’t remember my lines! I can’t remember my lines!” The one scene briefly sums up the entire film in a way. It is all an act; the man realizes his entire life is a sham. This is true of us all, we are all just playing our various roles.

Something often ignored when looking at Bunuel film is the technical skil with which it is shot. It is easy to get so caught up in the symbolism and metaphors, and not realize how exquisitely filmed and directed the picture is. There are beautiful smooth tracking shots throughout, and the coverage of groups of characters is brilliant. The camera transitions from one character to another seamlessly in a single shot. There are also several match cuts, which takes us through time and space in what is perceived as a single moment making you wonder is this a dream or reality?

Bunuel is unfairly classified as a surrealist, and those unfamiliar with his work do not realize that he is as much a comedian as he is a surrealist. His humor is discreet, and as a viewer you are almost not sure when he is joking. However, when you finally get in tune with Bunuel’s sensibilities Discreet Charm becomes laugh out loud. Whether it is the constantly repeated fact that the characters just cannot seem to sit down and actually eat, or it is the close up of a cellist’s hand moving rhythmically up and down as he plays a note. Subtly is the key to Bunuelian comedy. Further his comedy is not for everyone, often it can and in many cases has been taken as offensive resulting in nationwide bans for several of his films.

Bunuel was a mad man and a mastermind; an anomaly and an enigma, and his films are no different. His world is one of absurdity, his mission liberation from the confines of class structure, religion, and sexual repression. Discreet Charm touches on all of these in a disjointed, as well as comedic fashion.

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