The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

I was pretty excited to watch this movie today, because I really liked the other films I've seen that Luis Bunuel directed. It's actually a little hard to write about, because it's sort of similar to one of his other films, The Exterminating Angel. In Angel, a group of people become trapped in a house for no explainable reason after a meal. In Charm, a group of wealthy people go from place to place attempting to eat dinner but are unable to. Of course, they're also not the same at all, but the plots are similar, and have the same strange sense of humor.

I really liked this movie - I've pretty much been in love with all the other Bunuel films that I've seen, and this one is no exception. It's really odd, but it works really well. It has a sort of prodding humor in it. It's not your normal laugh-out-loud kind of comedy, but it's more sly, and a bit absurd. I like that about it. Plus, I like his style, the odd surrealism and how everything is a little off-kilter.



So, I pretty much just explained the plot above the jump. The group is constantly interrupted in various ways whenever they try to sit down and eat. It varies from the vaguely plausible (their hosts leave to go have sex outside) to the mildly insane (the group at one point discovers the food is stage props, and then finds themselves in a play. At another point, they are killed, firing-squad style, for no apparent reason. Don't worry, it was just a dream. Probably.). I really liked the way the narrative played out, in all these different layers of dreams. Not like Inception. More like how you dream in real life. Or at least I do. My least favorite dreams are when I dream that I'm getting ready for work/class/etc. and then wake up to discover I'm not. :(

Part of the point of the film is to make fun of the  1970's middle class, obviously. As Ebert writes, "Dinner is the central social ritual of the middle classes, a way of displaying wealth and good manners. It also offers the convenience of something to do (eat) and something to talk about (the food), and that is a great relief, since so many of the bourgeoisie have nothing much to talk about, and there are a great many things they hope will not be mentioned" (Great Movies II, 123). It's a little hard to relate to the middle class being this way, since that doesn't really happen anymore. I personally tend to think that just wealthy people do this sort of thing, but I'm not wealthy, so I honestly have no idea what class of people revolves around dinner plans. I would imagine it's the same sort of people who buy their children $200 pants, but I'm so far from that life that I am pretty ignorant of all of it. But, I get what Bunuel is doing here. The concept of the bourgeoisie is pretty ingrained, so I do have a conception of who he is making fun of. Boy I think I made myself sound dumb here.


"The joke," Ebert writes, "...is the way Bunuel interrupts the meals with the secrets that lurk beneath the surface of his decaying European aristocracy: witlessness, adultery, drug dealing, cheating, military coups, perversion and the paralysis of boredom" (Great Movies II, 123-124).  The humor comes from the weird juxtaposition that he shows us. The highly civilized couple who host a dinner party are so brash and carnal that they cannot control their lust for each other. The contrast between the stuffy dinner and the the horny couple is slyly funny, and it picks apart notions about the middle class that were present when the film was made. Underneath all the civility and manners, they are just as gross, if not more so, as we are.  Now, to some extent, it's harder to relate to this. We're sort of over-saturated with stories about how disgusting the wealthy can be, so some of the criticism that Bunuel intended is lost on modern viewers. I mean, like I did, it's understandable because you get the era it's set in, but it's not applicable to current times so much. It sort of almost becomes like a self-parody. Just like the diners keep going from one place to another trying to eat, the film keep marching forward as well, with no closure or resolution. I hope that makes some sort of sense.

I feel like my writing is becoming dumb, because I keep getting distracted. The movie is streaming on Netflix and Amazon, and it's really an interesting watch if you're interested in these sort of films at all. Let me know if you check it out!

Have any of you see The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Links:
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Buy or rent it on Amazon

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