MUBI Review: ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’ and Surrealist Commentary

As of today, the Amazon Rainforest is on fire, fascist rhetoric seems normalized, and I’m seeing videos of protestors across the seas and in my own country being beaten and oppressed. The world is unfair, cruel, and traumatic; and we are left to figure it out. It is especially infuriating when it seems those with the power to change the world turn a deaf ear to those fighting for justice.

Of course, this push and pull between the haves and have nots is nothing new. Often, analyzing how others have spoken out against injustice puts our anger in a comforting context. Luis Buñel had many of the frustrations that we have today, albeit in a different situation to say the least. In a strange twist of fate and fortune, we have the luxury to analyze his surrealist commentary in one of the seminal works of his career, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise. 

The film reads as one big sarcastic joke, even down to the title. Buñel seems to care little for the feelings of his subjects and rather plays with, and on, them. A group of 6 well-to-do French folk play the subject of Buñel’s game, and they just cannot catch a break. The group seems to float above the rest of the common folk around them, in pursuit of their goal: to enjoy a nice meal together.

Buñel frames this semi-unlikable group in a variety of hilarious and bizarre scenarios, where the oddest coincidences seem to get in the way of their innocent pursuit. In one scene, a restaurant’s manager dies and is mourned in the middle of his establishment. The group becomes aware that the staff are simply serving around this tragic event, desperately trying to appease their customers. They would never dare to do anything but cater to the consumer’s wants and needs.

The film reveals itself in small vignettes, all aligned in this theme. Various human realities oppose themselves against our protagonists; sex and adultery, war, religion, law, what have you. It is odd that all of this drama seems to affect our bourgeois group so little, that the only thing they seem to care about is their meal, and talking about it. It is sad to consider, with the death and spectacle around them, that they just don’t care. 

The Discreet Charm pulls no punches and is hilariously committed to its surreal, almost satirical premise. From line to line, Buñel and his collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière poke at such odd metaphor in a very precise way; it is clear to see why they were awarded an Oscar. The performances are convincing and creative, and the camerawork alternates from inoffensive and practical to intentional and beautiful. We are fortunate, then, to have such a sharp commentary on depressing political states. It is useful during this time.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise was released on MUBI on August 25th, and will be available for 30 days on the site. You can check out the rest of our MUBI Coverage here.

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