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Interesting, but flawed...
on 2 October 2009
Despite the great title and the extraordinary reputation, Bunuel's DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE never quite lives up to expectations. This is late Bunuel, and like much of the work from this period there's a certain clumsiness in the execution and a reticence to offer any concrete form of meaning to a series of characteristically surreal events.
The story is in two halves. The first, revolves around a group of bourgeois friends -- all gloriously unsympathetic -- and their continually thwarted efforts to eat dinner together; the second, probes the dreams -- and dreams within dreams -- of the group, again largely revolving around failed attempts to eat. There is also a recurring image of the group seemingly, and quite obliviously, on the road to nowhere.
Of course there's much to admire. One stunning scene features the females of the group being told a tale of murder and childhood fear which moves them not one bit. Another sequence in which dinner guests realise their meal is taking place on a stage, leaving them exposed to a wider world with nothing to say, is equally brilliant. It's also, at times, very funny. And the dreams reach a disturbingly realistic pitch in their imagery. But among all this is the nagging feeling that both director and writer (regular collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere) have a series of potentially interesting ideas but no real purpose. And then, there's that awful clumsiness that in its use of real exteriors and studio constructed interiors, often leaves the film looking like a 70's British sex comedy!
All in all, a film of great moments, and worth seeing for fans of European cinema from this period. But never as powerful or brutally satiric as the director's earlier work, particularly VIRIDIANA and THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL.