Luis Bunuel

Luis Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

Luis Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

  • Born: 1900
  • Died: 1977
  • Rank: 29
  • Score: 644.20
  • Awards: 2 NSFC / NBR
  • Nominations: 2 Oscars (for Screenplay) / BAFTA
  • Feature Films: 30
  • Best: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
  • Worst: The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

Top 10 Feature Films:

  1. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie – 1972
  2. Belle de Jour – 1967
  3. That Obscure Object of Desire – 1977
  4. L’Age d’Or – 1930
  5. The Exterminating Angel – 1962
  6. Los Olvidados – 1950
  7. The Phantom of Liberty – 1964
  8. Viridiana – 1961
  9. Simon of the Desert – 1962
  10. The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz – 1955

Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1952 – 9th – Los Olvidados
  • 1965 – 6th – Simon of the Desert
  • 1967 – 8th – The Exterminating Angel
  • 1968 – 5th – Belle de Jour
  • 1970 – 4th – The Milky Way
  • 1972 – 5th – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
  • 1977 – 5th – That Obscure Object of Desire

What do you do with a film career when your first film is the greatest short film ever made? And I don’t mean the greatest short film ever made by 1929, when Luis Bunuel co–directed Un Chien Andalou with Salvador Dali; I am talking about the greatest short film ever made. It’s been 80 years and it still stands the test of time.

What Bunuel did do was make L’Age D’Or which became a widely admired masterwork, but also widely banned. It wasn’t finally shown in the United States until 1979. It ended up with Bunuel, in spite of his genius, not making another feature film for 17 years. In between came exile from Spain during the Civil War and working for MoMA in New York and Warner Bros in Hollywood. Bunuel finally got around to making another feature film in 1947 and by 1954 had made 14 films. He was halfway through his career and his two best films (L’Age and Los Olvidados) had both been of a distinctly surrealistic vein. But heading into 1955 he was coming off his two worst films (The Fever Mounts at El Pao and The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe) and seemed to be floundering.

But then he responded with the Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz, a minor surrealistic masterpiece and he seemed to find new direction. While he was not quite as prolific as before (he made 13 films between 1950 and 1955), he still was fairly prolific for a major director, usually making a new film every year. And the films went to a whole new level – both in his distinctly humorous style and in their quality. Every film he made for the remainder of his career was good, most were very good and several (Belle, Disceet Charm, Obscure Object) were great. Even the Academy started to take notice, nominating him for Best Foreign Film three times and even awarding an Oscar to Discreet Charm (sadly, they missed the opportunity to give an Oscar to Obscure Object, his fantastic final film, instead choosing to reward the tepid Holocaust drama Madame Rosa). After threatening for years to retire, he finally did and the concept of a surrealistic film has never been the same since.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie – #3 film of 1972

In The Exterminating Angel, several guests finish dinner and get up but they never leave.  In The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, the finest of Luis Bunuel’s films, the guests are constantly sitting down to dinner but they never get to eat.

Discreet contains all the elements of a great surrealistic film, which is only natural since Bunuel was the best of all surrealistic filmmakers, the only one to make a true career of it except for maybe David Lynch.  Surrealism is a hard thing to do on film and if you don’t watch out you can become too self-indulgent (Fellini) or too non-sensical (William Klein) or critical success without commercial success (Francois Ozon).  The aspect that Bunuel often focused on was how the surreal could be funny, how things could make no sense and yet somehow seem to spring from a well of knowledge.

Look at how Bunuel skewers the characters in Discreet.  He not only makes good sport of the upper class that is trying to have its dinner party, but also a couple who want to have sex, the clergy who matter not without the proper trappings and even the anarchists who want to seize control.  Everyone is a target and Bunuel never hesitates.  He points out the inherent insanity and hypocrisy in society, in food, in sex, even in death.

Was this a film that could only have been made in the seventies?  Of course not; Bunuel made a whole career out of poking fun of whatever target he could find, most especially the hand that fed him (invited back by Franco in the early sixties, he responded with The Exterminating Angel which was promptly banned).  But the seventies might have been the only time when the Academy would have given the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and indeed, even nominated it for Best Original Screenplay.  It was a time when Hollywood was at a crossroads, with the complete dissolution of the major studios as the major creative force but before the implementation of the blockbusters that would come to define future movie-going.

What is perhaps most interesting is that this film and Belle de Jour were both made by Bunuel in the first place.  True, they have the kind of surrealism that developed in Spain with him and Dali, but they are both also about sex and society and food and bodily functions.  They are in the French language and with French stars and they feel like perfect examples of French films, when in fact they were written and directed by a Spaniard who had spent considerable time in both Mexico and the United States.  Perhaps that is the most surrealistic aspect of the film.

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