The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) dir. Luis Buñuel
The device of The Discreet Charm is the mirror of the one Buñuel used in The Exterminating Angel. In Angel, the group of aristocrats gather to dine, but they cannot leave. In Charm, they gather to dine, but they cannot eat.
In both, Buñuel’s aristocrats share the same stock traits as the upper crusts in his 1930 L’ Âge d’Or, and in other films through his career. They are petty, vain, and oversexed. They are polite and cordial to their cuckolds, and gracious in violence. The scene where the well-mannered couple sneaks out the window to make love in the bushes as to avoid offended their guests with loud moans is the iconic critique of bourgeoisie values covering up animal nature.
But, Buñuel is too much of a thoroughgoing postmodernist to make his film a simplistic “rich people suck” screed. He humanizes our aristocrats even while keeping his distance – and is careful to always remind his audience of exactly what he is doing. This can be subtle; the ambassador moves his hand up the young terrorist’s thigh, doing exactly what the Buñuel’s camera has been enticing the audience’s eyes to do. Or, it can be blatant; sticking our amusing characters on stage for us to see their amusement. The obviousness of this Brechtian device adds even another layer of distance.
And, we have Buñuel’s dreams from his childhood, inserted at random points in the film, in order to break up the non-narrative. And then more dreams. Whose are they?
Buñuel is making a Buñuel film, and he’s proud of that fact. Indeed, there is little more than Bourgeoisie than a deliberate exercise in Buñuelness. He’s not indulging in parody; he’s engaging in the style he invented, and enjoying it.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is #192 on the 2012 edition of the TSPDT 1,000 list I’m blogging through. I’ve now seen 428.