Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Buñuel. 1972)

"We are not against the students, but what can you do with a room full of flies? You take a fly-swatter and Bang! Bang!"


I have to admit that I have only enjoyed some of the surrealist classics on a purely intellectual level. I love that they make me and the audience think about what is going on. With that being said, I had not yet been entertained by a work from a surrealist outside of David Lynch. Here is where that changes. Louis Buñuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a film that has jumped up the list of my favorite films ever made. There is something so interesting about it that made me fall in love with it instantly.

There has always been a decent amount of comedy in the surrealist genre, but Buñuel takes everything to the next level with this film. The story is extremely simple. It follows a group of bourgeois upper class people in France who are simply trying to sit and eat a peaceful meal together. Each attempt at eating is interrupted by something from the outside. At first, the guests come on the wrong night. One attempt at dinner is ruined by the dead body of the restaurant owner being mourned over in the next room. One of my favorite disturbances takes place during an attempted lunch where the hosts are uncontrollably lustful toward each other. The guests have no idea where their hosts ran off to - they were having sex in the yard the whole time.

There is a subtle comedy behind every scene in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie that Buñuel drives home by allowing the audience to watch these rich people squirm. The awkwardness of their conversations and complexities in their everyday lives may seem to point toward an actual plot, but that is just Buñuel being himself. This is a film about rich people trying to eat dinner together. There is nothing more to it. That is what makes it funny. It is not hilarious comedy, but it is a shot in the ribs of the audience. The anticipation of what will happen to the party makes the audience smile. It is the ridiculousness that causes a minor chuckle.

There is hardly anything noticeably charming about any of the characters in the film. I think the title itself is meant to be funny. These are awful people who are obsessed with social status, quality and title. They also sell cocaine, talk down to their employees and get involved with international terrorists. All of this happens between attempted social gatherings.

There must be something deeper to be said about the concept of a large gathering for food. The audience chuckles over the fact that these rich people cannot eat together in peace - but we forget that there are people in this world who can never eat through no fault of their own. The men and women depicted in this film are trash. They are the snobby high class that has been hated since existing. At first, their problems seem so minor that they are laughable. As things start to spiral out of control, the audience is glad to see them unfed.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie was well-received upon its initial release. In fact, it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film. It was also nominated for Original Screenplay. Buñuel may not be popular with people who are looking for a tight and meaningful plot, but his work here will make you think. As his cast goes in and out of dreams with frustrated appetites, both real and imagined, the audience is starving for substance.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie: A

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