The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Luis Bunuel ( 1972 Fr ) Fernando Rey; Delphine Seyrig, Bulle Ogier
Viewed 24 JUNE 2010, Star and Shadow Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne:
Ticket price £4.00
retro crit: From inside the mind…
Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie (DCB) isn’t top of my list of the films by Luis Bunuel(LB). But it’s outstanding as an expressive medium that reveals to the viewer the immanent world of LB. Through DCB in both its form and its content, LB is experienced as a personal film maker. The material with which he works is his: there is nothing extraneous. LB as a writer/director is not selling anything. What he is doing is opening up to the audience his state of mind his way of seeing his obsessions. LB approaches film making as an act of faith, in which he uncovers and peels back the layers of his thinking and perception. Without apology or self censorship within the course of a shot or short sequence, he juxtaposes ideas and interposes values from divergent sources and remote ends of the cognitive spectrum: from the heightened to the venal, from the ‘awake’ to the ‘dream’ from the chaste to the erotic, from the cerebral to the visceral, from the tender to the cruel. In the mind of LB ‘life’ whether it be personal or collective is in constant tensile vacillation between these forces. But the working out of these relations is a moral issue the which underpins LB’s work both with DCB and with most of his other movies.
In the key recurring sequence of DCB, we see the bourgeois group walking purposefully down a long straight flat road that leads between fields. Normally we only see them move if they are in their limos. But in these shots they are walking: stripped of their normal outer shell. The group seem to come from nowhere and to be going nowhere. There is nothing in their manner or gait to suggest anything other than that they have complete self assurance in their journey or destiny. Within the logic of DCB they may be someone’s dream; they may be playing out a statement of their complete belief in the efficacy of appearances which is central to both the self image of the bourgeois and their claims upon the world; they may be looking for their automobiles. Who knows? But each return to these walking Bourgeois is an opportunity to wonder what is going on in LB’s mind: what’s he pointing to…? We’ll never know for sure.
DCB like the best of LB’s films is a sort of filmic mortification, a flaying of the skin in order to reveal what lies underneath. The veins and nerves under the dermis: society as a cadaver écorché. Underneath the veneer of exquisite manners, of apparent goodness, savoir vivre, fine apartments and beautiful accoutrements lies the corruption of drugs and gangster money; scourge the façade of religion to reveal that the real concern of this organisation is not with the souls of the poor but rather with the wallets of the powerful rich and cruel whose corrupt money buys the endowments. In DCB, in a brilliant coup, the Bishop of the diocese applies for and is granted, the position of gardener to the drug baron. What is at work beneath the surface is the fear of the Bourgeoisie: their fear of losing their money. Everything follows from this one simple observation.
It is the genius of Bunuel’s thought in film, that he can never be caste simply as a social satirist. Life is too complex to be formulaic. LB’s mind is claimed by kingdoms other than the social and DCB like other of his films enters the realms of the flesh the dream and the dead. These realms define the actual cognitive ground explored by LB. In DCB dreams radically break up the patina of the depicted ‘actual’ erupting as psychic forces, when least expected to smash open the controlling narrative. But the structure of DCB interweaving ‘actual’ ‘dream’ and ‘dream within dream’ calls in notions and ideas, the seeds planted by LB, that life itself, with its narratives of death, its smug rewarded killers, and its persecution of the innocent, may be a nightmare. That if life is what we make it then we have made of it a bad dream from which there is no escape, simply eternal recurrence.
LB is a very cool director and DCB is a very cool movie. Cool in the sense that he does not invest his images with emotive significance, au contraire he is careful to empty the image of emotional resonance as image in itself. He does not use image to manipulate: his image is about meaning and it is to the meaning that we react as we may. He films situations and sequences so that they propagate a world of ideas in the imagination of audience. DCB is LB’s vehicle of mind transference: his mind, his players. The incomparable Rey Seyrig and Ogier glide through DCB as ectoplasmic emanations of an idea: perfect in form and in execution of their roles as rulers of the cesspit. DCB in its control economy and audacity is an act of intentionality by a master.