Posts tagged Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Posts tagged Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
The father of surrealist cinema, and widely considered to be one of the most original directors in film history.
That’s quite a big claim…
True, but not an unsubstantiated one. Take his first short film, Un Chien Andalou (which you can watch in its entirety here. Isn’t the internet amazing? Can you imagine just a few years ago being able to watch an 80 year old film without having some serious contacts working in film archives? Anyway). Made in 1929 with Salvador Dali, it opens with a man sharpening his razor while watching clouds scud across the moon. We then see a woman being held, and the razor slicing open her eyeball. A different woman pokes a severed hand, and gets run over. Books turn into guns. There’s some dead donkeys on a piano, some magical travelling armpit hair…
There’s some magical travelling armpit hair?
At about 14 minutes in, if you’re inclined to jump straight to that bit. Everyone will judge you for it though.
But what’s the story?
There is no story. Every single image has been analysed and interpreted from every psychological standpoint imaginable, but the only rule for Buñueland Dali (according to Buñuel’s autobiography, My Last Sigh) was that “no idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted.” The eye slicing came from a dream Buñuelhad.According to him, the meaning was that there was no meaning.
That’s what S Club 7 should have said when Smash Hits and the like would ask them what the ‘S’ stood for, and they would just reply that it meant whatever you wanted it to mean.
That’s an incredibly outdated reference, but this absolutely relevant and not at all forced mention of music does provide the once in a lifetime opportunity to segue from S Club 7 to The Pixies: the lyrics to Debaser are based on Un Chien Andalou. According to Black Francis: I wish Buñuel was still alive. He made this film about nothing in particular. The title itself is a nonsense. With my stupid, pseudo-scholar, naive, enthusiast, avant-garde-ish, amateurish way to watch Un Chien Andalou (twice), I thought: ‘Yeah, I will make a song about it.’ [He sings:] “Un chien andalou”… It sounds too French, so I will sing “un chien andalusia”, it sounds good, no?’
Any more Buñuelian bits of trivia that I can amaze and astound my friends with?
Woody Allen was a huge fan of Buñuel, and according to My Last Sigh offered him $30,000 to appear in this great scene in Annie Hall. Buñuel was unable to do it, so instead media theorist Marshall McLuhan makes a cameo to shut up the loudmouth film bore that Annie and Alvie get stuck in the movie queue with. (NB a film bore is nothing at all like a person wanting to amaze and astound his friends with his film trivia knowledge.)
So Woody Allen didn’t get to collaborate with Buñuel?
Not in real life, but a fictional Buñuel does appear in Midnight in Paris. Owen Wilson’s character, Gil, suggests the plot of The Exterminating Angel – the guests of an upper-class dinner party find themselves unable to leave – to Buñuel decades before he would make the film. The joke is that Allen’s version of Buñuel is unable to understand why the guests can’t just go home. In The Discreet Charm of The Bourgeoisie (now back in cinemas – review here) Buñuel would reverse this plot as the characters are continually interrupted in their attempts to have a meal together.
All these references to food are making me quite hungry. Can we just stop with no explanation and pretend it’s a surrealist flourish?
Insert a link to the Bill Bailey surrealist ramble joke and sneak away, no one will notice.
Fans of linear narrative turn away now, this is no place for you. Reflecting on Buñuel’s classic The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie feels a lot like thinking about a dream. The harder you reach for a clear chronology and a simple meaning the more elusive they become.
Six friends, our not particularly discreet and only superficially charming bourgeoisie, repeatedly fail to have dinner together for increasingly strange reasons. First they show up at the host’s house only to find that they have the wrong day, and he is not there. They go out to eat at a restaurant, but quickly lose their appetites when they find a wake for the proprietor being held in an adjoining room. On another occasion they are interrupted by the army on manoeuvres, and on yet another occasion the curtains of the room draw back to reveal an audience – they are part of a stage play but none of them know the lines.
The theatre scene turns out to be part of a dream. Actually, a dream within a dream, as a couple of characters wake up as the film progresses. (I was going to say ‘as the story progresses’, but there’s not really a plot as such to speak of). There are dream sequences, and fantasies, and characters telling stories about their dreams, with no sign of a spinning top totem to reassure you that what you’re watching is real. Well, whatever reality is in this film anyway.
It seems a little redundant to say that The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is strange considering it is made by Buñuel, the godfather of surreal cinema. This is the most accessible of his works (it won the 1972 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film), but that does not guarantee you won’t be left slightly bemused by the end. Watch the bizarre trailer for a taster of the tone (though don’t get tricked into thinking that this is some sort of arty sex romp – they managed to shoehorn every grope into the trailer. But of course we don’t believe in European stereotypes.)
Is it social satire, commenting on the inconsequential lives of the middle classes? Is it a Freudian analysis of dreams? Is it Buñuel playing with the audience’s need to find meaning in the art they consume? The potential for interpretation is great. The special feature on the DVD, a half hour critical analysis by Peter William Evans, is incredibly interesting and definitely worth a watch, if only to reveal even more possibilities.
There is a scene repeated throughout the film of the group of six walking along a country road. We never find out why they are walking, or what their destination is. In the scene, and the film as a whole, there is no standard narrative, it’s just a series of events that lead ultimately to nothing. No answers are forthcoming. But, as in life, perhaps that’s what makes it interesting.
The newly restored The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie is back in cinemas on 29 June, and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on 16 July