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The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Review Written by: Joe Earp
Film: A+
Video/Audio/Extras: B-/A/F

Directed by: Luis Bunuel
Written by: Luis Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere
Produced by: Serge Silberman
Starring: Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Bulle Ogier, Stephane Audran
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Rent it

We all eat. This is simple, indisputable fact. Food is an integral part of our life. Our appetite can sometimes define us better than our intelligence. But what would happen if we suddenly discovered we couldn't even chew or swallow anymore? What would happen if we became so obsessed with class and status that we forgot how to be human? It seems somehow appropriate to have such a bizarre opening for the review of such a bizarre film. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie is Luis Bunuel's masterpiece and one of those movies you simply want to watch again and again, hoping maybe to crack the mystery that lies at their heart. The 'plot' as it were centers around a group of upper class diplomats and their vain attempts to have dinner together. Almost every time they sit down to eat they are interrupted by some unforeseen dilemma or danger. But that is only the starting point for a truly insane film that features dreams within dreams, botched drug deals, mass murders and many sexual mishaps.

Oh and by the way, did I mention it was a comedy?

As dark as the film sounds it is actually hysterically funny. A comedy as bleak as Doctor Strangelove, Bunuel takes time to poke fun at all of his characters, not just the upper-class bourgeoisie of the title. In one absurdly comic scene a priest becomes a gardener for no perceptible reason at all. This kind of humor is impossible to put into words and sometimes it even flies over our head when we watch it on screen. Nevertheless, the film still scores a bullseye time and time again when stripping its insanely stupid protagonists to the bone. I can't really explain why I love The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Maybe it's the wonderful way the humour is balanced by scenes of intense violence. There are numerous shoot-outs and even an absurd torture sequence where a man is electrocuted by a piano.

Usually at this point in a review, I'd comment on a film's music. Strangely enough however, the soundtrack of The Discreet Charm is completely bare. This adds a slightly chilling element to the film. We almost feel guilty laughing as our mirth seems out of place when juxtaposed with the horrible silence of the film. Hitchcock once said that Bunuel was the greatest director that ever lived, its not hard to see why. The camerawork is exceptional. Instead of turning his film into a melodrama by filling it with close ups and whip pans, every single sequence is brilliantly thought out. The direction is so wonderful every single close-up, every single wide shot, means something important. But one of the best things about The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is its completely open ending. By the time the end credits begin to roll (in complete silence may I add) the audience is still left puzzled. To give away anything more would be criminal, but let's just say the film's central dilemma is never really resolved...

Bunuel doesn't give us the easy way out: we are left questioning our own lives as well. By setting his film in such a domestic, unexceptional upper-middle class home the ingenious Spanish direction both amuses us and gets us thinking. Because in truth, how much of our own lives are ruled by class and society? Characters in the film cannot even eat thanks to their obsession with material goods. And can any of us really say that we aren't dependent of possessions or wealth? Bunuel's famous surrealism works to great effect. If he had decided to play the film seriously, we might have felt as though the movie was simply a hour and a half long lecture. However by pointing out the insanity of the whole set-up Bunuel pokes fun at almost everything imaginable, from the church to the government.

The DVD extras do not do justice to an amazing film. In fact the only feature is a deadly boring trailer, ham-handedly cut together. So in conclusion The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is one of those films you see once in a life time.

Don't miss it.

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