The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie directed by Luis Buñuel (France, 1972)
One of the guiding principles of surrealist artists like Salvador Dali, Max Ernst or Luis Buñuel was that ideas and images should defy rational explanation.
In his autobiography, ‘My Last Breath’, Buñuel linked this to his religious non-belief, writing that “my form of atheism leads inevitably to an acceptance of the inexplicable”.
This philosophy is evident in The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, the second of a movie triptych he made near the end of an illustrious career spanning almost half a century. The movie shares themes of coincidence, mystery and the nature of truth with The Milky Way (1969) and The Phantom Of Liberty (1974)
The notion that things in his films should be understandable and explainable filled Buñuel with horror. He saw the inherent contradictions of reducing a work of the imagination to a formula or a rigid set of principles. He thus prefered to describe the events of The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie as “realism in the midst of delirium”.
In the movie, there are dreams, and dreams within dreams so we are never entirely sure if what we are seeing is really happening or just the figment of someone’s imagination.
It follows the (mis)fortunes of six apparently upstanding upper class citizens and their attempts to dine together. A series of bizarre obstacles prevent them from ever fulfilling this social ritual.
The farcical scenes of a dinner party disrupted my military manoeuvres, or the discovery that the corpse of a restaurant owner is in the next room, work as social satire but this is more than just a gentle comedy of manners.
The movie implies that the maintenance of polite respectability is just a superficial veneer to cover a veritable can of worms which includes adultery, drug trafficking, terrorist plots and religious hypocrisy.
Buñuel’s cynicism towards sanctimonious bishops and two-faced politicians is never in doubt but,as in all his movies, he manages to avoid excessive moralising or the pursuit of a narrow political agenda.
In between their failed attempts to eat, the six representatives of the bourgeoisie are seen walking along a deserted country road and this is the final image we have of them, dressed formally as if on their way to yet another dinner date but ultimately on the road to nowhere.