May 2015 Blindspot: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

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The Blindspot Series is a series of twelve posts spread throughout the year designed to offer bloggers a chance to catch up classic films we somehow may have missed. Started by The Matinee, here is my list of Blindspot films for 2015. Next up for May is Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

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I’m hesitant to review this movie because I know I didn’t understand it. Even though I’ve had limited experience with his films, I know Bunuel’s an odd duck. This film is no different. I gathered, both from watching it and reading reviews of it, that it is supposed to be a satire of the upper class and the rigidity of their social customs, and I suppose I saw that in the film. However, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the film and some of the ways Bunuel showed this made more sense to me than others.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a film where a group of wealthy politicians and their wives are always getting interrupted when sitting down to dinner. These interruptions range from quite commonplace to totally outlandish. Maybe the restaurant doesn’t have any beverages left, or maybe all of the guests are getting arrested for no reason. The point is, the refuge that the upper class takes in rituals (dinner in this case), is easily destroyed by the absurdity of life. A point that I find more interesting to think about on its own than see displayed in this film.

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The main problem with this film is that it doesn’t really have a story. It stays stuck, going around in circles, because the same thing happens again and again: rich people sit down to dinner and get interrupted. That’s all that happens in this movie! Now, I do have to admit that there is some escalation. Things get more strange and absurd as time goes on. However, despite this, it was really hard to hold my attention without much narrative drive to speak of, especially when the film’s point is so easily figured out. Now, I’m sure there’s more nuance to be found here other than a simple critique of the upper class, but it’s also very easy to just settle on that early on in the film and not explore anything further, which I’m ashamed to say is the trap I fell into.

Bunuel adds a weird plot contrivance in about halfway through and that’s an Inception-esque dream element. A near-dinner scenario will abruptly end by cutting to one of the characters waking up in bed. This was very confusing to me because I had no idea how much of the previous events were supposed to be included in the dream. Was the whole movie a dream? Are there dreams within dreams (exactly like Inception)? I was getting a bit frustrated with this conceit because it didn’t make a whole lot of sense in terms of the plot, and what’s more, didn’t seem to affect the original satire that Bunuel seemed to be going for. So, bearing that in mind, I quickly stopped trying to figure out what was a dream and who was dreaming what, and just sort of took at all as examples of satire. The dreams of the upper class don’t seem to be that different from real life (maybe), rendering even their fantasy lives quite banal.

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Since coming back to the blog I’ve been trying to pay a bit more attention to the cinematography in films because many reviews focus only on plot, themes, and maybe acting, but here I found it hard to find any concrete method in the cinematography. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, but just like the film as whole, I didn’t understand it really. I did notice that there wasn’t a whole lot of shallow depth of field, but I can’t say why. It was just something I noticed.

Readers, you may have noticed that this isn’t really one of my best reviews. It’s definitely more of a half-hearted list of reactions to a film that didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense to me rather than anything approaching a comprehensive review. Perhaps I’ll revisit Discreet Charm again in subsequent years and be able to make sense of it, but right now it’s hard for me to be bothered. When it comes down to it, it wasn’t a film that got to me. It’s frustrating that after two years of blogging this still happens to me, but unfortunately that sometimes is the case.

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“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Come quick!”

Long story short: 2.5/4 stars

For further reading:

Roger Ebert review

The Blindspot schedule is very hectic right now, but hopefully the next one on City of God will be up on June 28th.

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3 responses to “May 2015 Blindspot: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

  1. Pingback: Blindsided by WITHNAIL & I | The Matinee | Cinematic Passion & Perspective·

  2. “…Bunuel is an odd duck” ahah, well I’ll keep that in mind. I haven’t seen any of his work yet. I just saw a Godard film for the first time for May Blindspot as well, so maybe I’ll check out one of his films next year.

    • Yeah Bunuel is weird. I’ve only seen one other of his films beside this one, and with both I like to read criticism of them rather than watch the movie. Watching the movies, I just get confused.
      I’m still gonna preserve with his films tho, considering how well respected he is! It’s just slow going.

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