Monday, November 2, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE"

THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972)

Director: Luis Bunuel
Screenplay: Luis Bunuel in collarboration with Jean-Claude Carriere



I guess something that I never really thought much about with "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" is that there are actual characters in this movie. Not that their important, but the actors are in fact playing real characters and playing them well. I never really thought about that before, and I seriously doubt anybody else really has either,nor do I think they should but it is interesting. Luis Bunuel is cinema's ultimate surrealist. It's not that he's not capable of straightforward characters and stories, in fact he's great at that with films like "Tristana", "Viridiana" and "Belle de Jour", but he also first broke onto the big screen in 1929 with Salvador Dali when they made "Un Chien Andalou" a short film that will probably be in this Canon as well someday, which includes random sequences including, a slicing of a woman's eyes, (Okay, it's wasn't really a woman, it's a horse or a donkey I believe, but they do slice it, so you've been warned!) a hand with ants and an ant mole in it, a particularly excessive groping scene, and everybody becoming statues buried in sand. I think, not that it matters. Oh, and Wagner music. "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" is one of his later films, he was in his '70s when he made it, and it won him a Foreign Language Film Oscar and it's one of most his best films and one of his most surreal, and that's saying something.

The movie begins with a group of upper class sophisticates sitting down to eat dinner. That's it. That's the entire thing they try to do and they never get around it. Sometimes they arrive for dinner on the wrong day, sometimes there's a corpse in the next room as the restaurant's owner has just passed away, but they workers are still insisting on serving them. Sometimes, they arrive at the right time and place, but the couple in the house are too busy trying to find a nice quiet place to fuck, finally settling on the front lawn when nothing else is available, for some reason. Sometimes a war gets in the way, although the soldiers apologize to them personally for all the noise the war is causing, interrupting their dinner, which they still haven't had yet and never will. Actually soldiers interrupt them twice to tell personal stories, sometimes the restaurant doesn't have what they want, including tea or coffee, not even getting to the food. Sometimes a mistress, or the mistress's husband, or a terrorist trying to kill the Ambassador/drug kingpin (Fernando Rey, admittedly I'm focusing on him 'cause he's the actor I'm most familiar with, he was the bad guy in "The French Connection" among other credits.) drops by, the Ambassador kills a military leader of the country starting a war, sometimes police come to arrest the Ambassador and everyone else for all their crimes, real and- well seen and unseen is a better way to describe it, one time the town Bishop dropped by asking to become the house gardener, and that caused all the guests to leave. At one point, the get served food, only to find that it's just a prop, and that they're in fact on stage being watched, at which they immediately scurry and flee hoping not to get seen, in the scene. Doesn't help that they don't remember their lines for the play, either. That scene pairs well with a segment in one of Bunuel's very last films, "The Phantom of Liberty" where people defecate in front of everyone, but they then go to the bathroom in order to eat, although the movie's real parallel is his earlier film "The Exterminating Angel" a movie in which people go and enjoy a lavish dinner party, and then, they never leave, or are incapable of leaving, even after the police and authorities are brought in. Whatever the particularly commentary and on who in this movie, is probably lost through time, although we can presume the upper echelon of society in definitely the main antagonist, although what that meant in '72, probably a bash at the corruption in one of the many countries he worked in, (This film is technically a French film, although Bunuel is Mexican but he spent most of his career working elsewhere, mainly in Europe) There's a few recurring themes in his movies. Fetishes are one, and it comes into play here, although his biggest motif is dreams. Even "Los Ovlidados (aka "The Young and the Damned)" had an infamous dream sequence in it and that's probably his most neorealistic film. (Also, his most famous Mexican film.) People wake up from dreams quite often here, although it's hard to claim that anybody was dreaming, the whole movie is dreams within dreams, it's not real, it's just a device to move onto the next bit of surreality. He's simply playing with us at this point, teasing us with film convention, and the enjoyment of the film is waiting to see what-the-hell is gonna come up or happen next. While Bunuel could do a straight-forward narrative, he worked best with dreams and dream logic. His modern day comparison is David Lynch, although Lynch is just dreams, Bunuel was a real surrealist. Plot, structure, one act following another, logic, film convention are thrown out the window. Sometimes there's loud sounds like airplanes and police sirens blocking what we hear the actors say, not caring at all whether or not we hear it, as though they're going through, since they're going through the motion of this performance anyway, it doesn't really matter. Not the acting performances, the performances of the upper class, acting as though they are supposed to, like they're parts in a play that's constantly ongoing, like that lousy episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" where the search party got stuck in that bad novel that takes place in a casino. At the end of the movie, all the guest are killed. Or not, either way they're all dressed for dinner that they do not eat, and then they are soon walking own the same road, as airplanes seem to fly around them, despite no indication of planes or an airport, just walking to their next dinner, or to wherever. It's almost like a parody of "The Seventh Seal" actually where the seven are walking towards heaven; I don't know where they're going and I doubt they honestly do either.

"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" is just a brilliant and bizarre comedy of wits and errors. I describe Bunuel as a surrealist and he is, but at this point, while the content was often the thing that made his films "surreal", what separates this film out and much of his other later work as surreal, is in structure, or lack thereof. As much as it attacks the upper class, it probably attacks film and all of it's most traditional conventions more. Characters sit down for dinner, like we sit and watch a movie, only we get the pleasure of seeing a movie and they don't get the pleasure of eating, sorta. Jokes on them, and that's what makes it so enjoyable to watch."The Discreet Charm..." takes a chainsaw to our expectations of narrative and story, and that's just sly, sadistic, sardonic fun.
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