For the uninitiated, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is considered to be legendary Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s most popular and accessible film. It follows six upper class, powerful “friends” who make attempts to dine with one another, only for their plans to be continuously interrupted through ludicrous circumstances. Such a summary, however, rather simplifies and dilutes what is typically a multifaceted and profound piece of work. As much as the narrative concerns the characters’ inability to come together, it becomes fixated on their dreams, and with them their repressed anxieties and desires.
The complexity of it all is that the two are presented fluidly, intertwining so that there becomes little to no distinction between what is real and what is imaginary, and this blurred perspective only escalates. By the end, there have been dreams within dreams, ghost stories, and assassination attempts. Throughout, diegetic sound encroaches over dialogue at inexplicably chosen times; obscure characters will invade a scene to tell their own warped tale only to never be heard of again. The incoherency is part of the fun, and as disorganized as the film’s series of events may seem, they are thematically linked to weightier subjects, pertaining to issues with class, religion and authority.
Akin to Buñuel’s previous work, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is rife with critique and satire, and a Marxist-Freudian edge, all the more evident now than upon original release. Each main protagonist is characterised by ignorance (intentionally, their dialogue never references the eccentric chaos occurring around them), self-absorption, deceit, greed and elitist attitudes. If anything, this was his complete mockery of the upper classes.
Amidst such figurative and political language, it is possible to forget that this film is also a comedy, and an extremely effective one at that. The simplest of pleasures can be taken in the crazy situations that deny the bourgeoisie their dinnertime. Even when disregarding the philosophy behind some of the jokes, the comedy is still clever, well conceived and witty. There is an anticipation involved, as the group continue their quest for social harmony, as to what farcical and nonsensical thing can get in their way next. It is unpredictable, and, for that reason, often hilarious. Importantly, whilst such humor certainly does not distract from the gravitas of the ideas on display, it does soften them, meaning that even without wanting to read into the film’s immense intellectual depth, you can revel in its absurdity.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a prime example, of a cinema that has its own distinct tendencies and characteristics, far removed from populist expectation. If you are yet to indulge, and it is encouraged you do, do so with an open mind. For those who know all about, and admire, its own charms, certainly reacquaint yourself. Upon celebrating its 40 years as one of the great surrealist tales, there is not a better time to do so.
DVD extras: Considering the nature of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’s release, the DVD is disappointingly short of extra content. For your money you will receive a theatrical trailer and a 34-minute critical analysis by Peter William Evans (author of The Films of Luis Buñuel: Subjectivity and Desire). Though the analysis is insightful, detailing the filmography and legacy of Buñuel, and the psychoanalytic and sociological aspects of the film, it is hard not to view the rest of the DVD as a missed opportunity to really celebrate a landmark anniversary.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is released on 16 July 2012 on DVD and Blu-ray.