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Discreet Charm Of The Bourgoisie  

Those of the opinion that the high-class members are self-absorbed, materialistic cretins may get a real kick out of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, a surreal, wacky piece of work, possibly director Luis Bunuel`s personal revenge upon such depraved individuals.

The characters are an assorted group of upper crust members of society, ranging from a cocaine-smuggling ambassador to a bishop with a gardening fetish. The pretense of the plot is that the characters never can actually get together for a dinner occasion without some disaster in their midst. But in fact, that fragile storyline is merely an excuse for an abundance of weird, strange, surreal and satirical set-pieces which will amuse, shock and confound. Right from the first, things do not proceed as planned. Initially, it is that the guests have turned up on the wrong night. So they decide to go to an inn for supper, where it turns out the owner had died that afternoon and his body is laid out in vigil in the very next room. The customers are so sickened they simply must leave. The women, especially, protest this situation. Following this, we get some notion of a few of the characters, including the ambassador, who, besides his cocaine business, has to contend with a terrorist group, led by a woman who grabs his attention and fear in peculiar ways.

This is where things begin to get strange. The movie`s sense of narrative will madden those who expect a "normal" story. There is no plot to speak of, but rather, a carefully edited series of surrealistic situations. This ranges from the seemingly plausable events to invasions of the characters own fantasies, fears, and dreams. It reachs a point where it is literally impossible to tell the dreams from the reality, but, no matter. The film is a lot of fun.

Favourite parts: The plot involving the bishop. You can see the look of rapture in his squinting eyes when his plan is set in motion, to take over the rich couple`s vacant position of gardener. What`s even funnier is when the husband is greeted by this stranger, dressed in proper gardening attire, claiming to be a bishop. The man kicks the bishop out and protests to the maid: "I told you never to let strangers in the house!" Of course, the bishop must return to his proper clothing to convince the couple his intentions are genuine. I have a feeling the business about the gardening is symbolic: like the products of gardening, all religion serves is to put a nice, pretty mask over the reality and the ugliness underneath, including inside the bishop`s own nature. He has had a tragic childhood, involving the unsolved murder by poison of both his parents. This is given only a brief mention until close to the film`s end, when he is suddenly confronted with the truth of the poisoning. That particular scene is both funny, and shocking.

Another moment, which will surprise you, comes during a sequence in the police station, when an officer tells of the legend of a disliked police sergeant who was killed in a protest, and who haunts the station on the night of the anniversary of his death. The actual presentation of this story is creepy, but the payoff is priceless, and something I guarantee you will not expect.

Luis Bunuel was the creator of numerous works of surrealism, his personal form of expressing his discontent and reaction to the world, mainly elite society and religion. In Belle De Jour, Catherine Devenue played a proper, frigid upper-class wife who inexplicably decides to become a high-class call-girl by day. Phantom of Liberty contains numerous paradoxes which twist one`s vision of polite society (including a scene where the roles of eating and bathroom duties are reversed). And Virindina contains a notorious parody of The Last Supper. This film also gives a viewer a very unique account of high society, and the banality it contains. At least, that`s the opinion of Bunuel.

It may sound redundant to say you will only react to this film in a very personal way, but that`s the best way to explain its power. All the ideas I`ve discussed are really only my opinions. I could be all wrong about the gardening bit, for example. But opinions are all you`ve got when you try to explain surrealism. Try telling me what the ending of Belle De Jour means. It would probably be different from mine. On second thought, I don`t even have an opinion on that. But I digress. I couldn`t be sure on everything here, just as I couldn`t be sure if I were to interpret your dreams. I`m merely a witness, while you are the one with the subjective experience. And like a dream, this film is very dream-like. Like dreams (mine at least), the movie looks and feels very realistic, and some plausible things occur. But strange things are happening within, both in terms of behaviour and narrative. This could well be one of the best representations of the dream state placed on a film. I`m giving this film the full four-star rating because it is a great work of art. It doesn`t make much literal sense, but it is an experience all the same. It is worth more than one viewing, if only to get accustomed to the dream-like rhythms of Bunuel`s art.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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