In his 1972 film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Luis Buñuel constructs a world of middle-class dreamscapes.
From the off it would be easy to assume that these weren’t dreams at all, as the surrealist style in play is nowhere near as blatant as say Buñuel’s previous collaboration with Dali Un Chien Andalou, or Deren and Hackenschmied’s Meshes of the Afternoon. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie instead hinges on satiric surrealist subtleties and discreet disruptions to the normative.
The loose narrative follows six socialites who engage in a series of failed dinner parties and unsuccessful soirees. The various twists and turns of their ruination evolve from mistaken dinner dates, to impromptu sexual encounters, and even a woman with gun and a lettuce in her handbag. Frequently they conclude with a waking realisation of a man that it may have just been a dream – or a dream with a dream, or a dream overlapped by reality, or…
Buñuel’s satire is constantly humorous, though at times it’s a strain to muster a laugh, but at others it’s a strain the stifle one. It’s a shame that though its themes and concepts are not as outdated as the 70s clothes and interior would infer, the audience at times subsides into boredom through repetition and lack of verve. However, the underlying message of it all being a class act shines through at least.
One poignant scene, the three couples are sitting at another dinner party table when the wall behind them moves away to reveal an audience: they are on stage. Dumbstruck, the guests receive a prompt line from a man in the stage – which one of the men dutifully repeats. The women, in their little black dresses, of course leave the room with tuts of distaste. The audience boos them down; they can’t even act properly!
In the end, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie successfully champions an undermining of bourgeoisie lifestyle and the satirisation of ingrained, arbitrary class consciousness. If our minds are tuned to the high-brow concentration required that is…
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, dir. Luis Buñuel (France/Italy/Spain, 1972)