Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie

Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie

Luis Buñuel, 1972

The systematic analysis of this film would be in my opinion a gigantic task, since there are so many topics, stories and references intermingled in the chaotic way the surrealists are so fond of. I think the two main topics –sometimes in surrealism there is not even one- are dreams and transgression of social norms and traditions.

The film is articulated on linked-up situations: five gatherings of a group of bourgeois friends and four stories, four dreams which are dreamt by different characters. The suppers are more common in the first part of the film, and the dreams on a second part, but they alternate with each other and with other episodes, like that of the terrorist girl.

At the beginning things seem not to turn out good: right the first thing we see is the perplexity of the guests to M. Senechal house when they are told the supper was planned for the next day. ‘But that is impossible’, says Acosta, ‘I couldn’t have accepted, tomorrow I’m busy’. Contradiction with no explanation, right the same way as things happens in a dream, where we accept the reality of what we dream without explanations, even if it is impossible or contradictory with something else –dreams are the core of surrealism and of this film.

This baffling beginning really impressed me. There is contradiction and kind of a difficulty to do things in every single detail in the next sequence: Mme and M Senechal are invited to dine out, but she has to change. The restaurant ‘n’a pas l’air gai’, and the door is locked. They knock and they are invited in. The owners have changed. There is no people and the prices are cheap. Everything is suspicious. And then the first punch of the story: the manager died that afternoon and the wake has been set in the dining room since the undertaker has not yet arrived. Of course, the bourgeois leave. This is the first reference to death, a constant theme either in surrealism, in dreams and in this film.

It seems as if the whole film was a dream. Within the context things are logical and normal –or seem logical and normal- to the characters, and their reactions are ‘contextually’ logical too, but from the outside the stories in the film are as odd as any dream we can have. E.g., when Acosta shoots the terrorist girl from his window, or when the army appeared at M. Senechal’s house, or even when the bishop tells M Senechal that he wants to be the family gardener. They are baffled, but they accept the things that happen, as we are baffled by or dreams but accept their logic when we are dreaming.

Social transgression is based on a subtle but scorning parody of the bourgeois class and their customs and beliefs. The bourgeois are classy, and conceited: they show off their vain culinary knowledge every time they host a supper. M. Thevenot boasts that ‘discreet charm’ of the bourgeois when he subtly makes fun of the chauffeur: he does not know how to drink a Martini… Later on, Acosta cheats on Thevenot when he tells him that he has to show his wife the ‘sursiks’… Thevenot does not know what that is, but he is an hypocrite not to say it. The bourgeois are also extremely fond of the lowest vices and they enjoy them gaily –I do not think, on the other side, that Buñuel is condemning them, but the hypocritical attitude of the bourgeoisie. Drug trafficking and consumption, lust, alcohol… The commentaries about the younger girl vomiting and dirty nails and her ignorance (the complex of Euclides, she says at some point) point out –and laugh at- the hypocrisy in the values of the middle-high classes.

Also the Church and the Army are criticized. The Bishop, a main head of the Church, is humble –a extremely acid irony- but will mercilessly kill a poor man that will die anyway –that adds to the cruelty. The Bishop is also ignorant: he does not know where the Republic of Miranda is. The soldiers and officers smoke marihuana and praise it, they even are connoisseurs! –‘Mexico or Congo?’, the general asks, referring to the origins of the product..

The dreams come over mainly in the second part of the film. Both the two first of them are dreamt by soldiers. I really enjoyed them. In the first one I see a little bit of a reference of the life in Spain on the times when Buñuel was a kid –I do not know Buñuel’s early life in Spain, but I presume there could be some autobiography. The looks of the parents of the young soldier, their clothes and the strict, militarist attitude of the father made me think of the Spanish family life in the turn of the century XIX to XX. I also liked the second dream. The dark and blurry street and house and the background noise make a great dreamy scene. In this dream, the soldier meets a dead friend. Then another friend comes over, and makes him realize that it is impossible. Sometimes in real dreams this happens too. Something happens and then, with no explanation, we realize that is impossible. It also should be pointed out that these two dreams share two primal human topics: motherly feelings and fear to death. The topic of death is present in some other dreams: the general’s, in which Acosta shoots him dead; or the dream about the ghost of the sergeant. Another primal fear is dealt with in Senechal’s dream: shame. They are caught in a theater stage while they are having dinner –this is a recurrent dream that sometimes takes other forms: being naked in the middle of the street or lying on your bed wearing you pajamas in your classroom.

I also found humor all over the film: funny situations such as the bishop offering himself as a gardener, or the straws in M. and Mme. Senechal hair. Acosta playing tricks on Thevenot, or the soldiers happily smoking joints and listening to a ‘sympa’ dream. But I do not know if Buñuel is trying to be funny or only to transgress… And that transgression is hilarious because it reveals the hypocrisy of society.

by Miguel Marques Muñoz

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