Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) Directed by Luis Bunuel. Fernando Rey, Stephane Audran, Delphine Seyrig. (in French with new English subtitles).

Waking from a dream, and eating food; these two things are the test of being alive in The Discreet Charm… Three middle class couples, a drug smuggling ambassador from imaginary Miranda and his entourage drift through a dark comedy organized around frustrating dinner parties and dreams that appear to be real. This film, recently re-released by Rialto Pictures, won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1972.

Luis Bunuel was born February 22, 1900 in Calanda, Spain, a small village of 3,000 with an almost mediaeval atmosphere. Until he left for the University of Madrid, he had not been a part of modern society, and the city came as quite a shock. His father refused to let him study music, so he pursued engineering. Discouraged by the math, he became a student of a famous entomologist, the Director of the Museum of Natural History, and his passion for insect life is visible in many of his films. But, the greatest influence on his life were the friendships he made in the student residence, including the poet Federico Garcia Lorca and painter Salvador Dali. Amid a yeasty intellectual atmosphere, they went to the movies; their favorite was Buster Keaton. Keaton=s deadpan humor and unlikely juxtapositions do seem to have influenced Bunuel=s black comedies.

Borrowing money from his mother, Bunuel and Dali made AUn Chien Andalou.@ They had been discussing their dreams, and using those images and other free associations, made a film whose opening scene has never lost its shock value. After a falling out, Bunuel went on to make AL=Age D=Or@ Athe only authentic surrealist film@ according to Andre Breton. The deliberately incendiary images caused a riot and the film was banned. One person who must have appreciated this notoriety was Irving Thalberg at MGM, who brought him to Hollywood on a contract, but Bunuel was bored and quit in a huff. He ended up working for Iris Barry, the visionary Film Curator at the Museum of Modern Art…his job: to re-edit Leni Reifenstal=s pro-Nazi documentaries into a form demonstrating the power of filmed propaganda. In exile from Franco=s Spain, he did not make another film until 1947 in Mexico, where he made 19.

He returned to Spain, and beginning with Viridiana made a stunning series of films including AThe Exterminating Angel@ (which is in many ways a mirror image of Discreet Charm…), ATristiana, Diary of a Chambermaid, Belle de Jour and That Obscure Object of Desire.

The dreams that dominate the film are a direct link back to his Surrealist preoccupations in the 1920s, when Andre Breton said AThe most admirable thing about the fantastic is that the fantastic does not exist…everything is real.” Bunuel believed, “If someone is dreaming, why can’t I see what he is dreaming? Why can’t I enter the dream and change it? This limitation bothers me. But in a film, I can abolish this limitation altogether.”

Carlos Fuentes wrote that AA really important director makes only one film; his work is a sum, a totality of perfectly related parts that illuminate each other.@ In The Discreet Charm... Bunuel does seem to have done away with plot entirely, making a film of pure personal fantasy. The only subject seems to be eating, expressing the truth that all life is organized around mundane activities. Like today=s Afoodies@ the bourgeoisie think the perfect way to eat and drink the essence of life itself. Reality at the dinner table is the ultimate in bad taste.

But, you can=t really hate the listless, greedy people in Discreet Charm… Their dreams are too funny, too fascinating. Perhaps they’re doomed, but somehow, they survive.

c. Moviediva2000