Classical narrative also referred to as classical continuity describes film analysis and criticism constituting visual style and narration in the film making industry. It has characterized American cinema from 1917 to 1960 and become the dominant method of film making in the United States. It consists of a set of norms such as framing, continuity editing, music scores and three point lighting. However, most films in the industry do not comply with all these norms. The norms focus at establishing interrelated systems including; cinematic time, cinematic space, and logic in the narrative. The narrative logic is more like a literary narration in literature where a plot is focused on psychological motivation of characters and how they continuously struggle to attain the intended goal. Cinematic time and space are elements used to manipulate the visual approach in storytelling and making the film appear as real as possible on screen. The art of film narration consists of a sense of social realism centered on dreams, thoughts and motivation of characters.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie: Le Charme Discret De La Bourgeoisie is a surrealist film produced in 1972 (Kinder, 1999). It was directed by Luis Bunuel and written by Jean-Claude Carriere. The film is mainly in French with a few dialogues in Spanish and was made in France. The narrative is based on a group of upper middle class folks who attempt to dine together notwithstanding continued interruptions. Surrealist film production is a modern approach of film theory with its origins dating back to the 1920s in Paris and uses classical narration. It is related to Dada cinema and characterized by rejection of dramatic psychology, juxtapositions, and recurrent use of dreadful imagery. Surrealism seeks to expound on the creative potential of the unconscious mind. The film consists of linked scenes with four dreams from different characters and five gatherings among a group of Bourgeois friends (Kinder, 1999).
The beginning is centered on the gatherings while the dreams are expressed at the end though there is intertwining of scenes. The beginning of the film is of a bourgeois couple; the Thevenots who accompany Mme., Rafael Acosta and Florence, Thevenots’s sister to Senechals house. The Senechal’s are hosting a dinner party. However, when they arrive Alice Senechal is surprised to see them as she was expecting them the following evening. The guests invite Mme to join them for dinner at a nearby inn. There are no diners in the inn though the cheap prices, the waitress is reluctant and sounds of crying voices can be heard from the next room. Upon learning that the manager had died a few hours earlier, the party leaves with rush (Kinder, 1999). The bourgeois friends’ later attempt to have lunch at the Senechals, however, Cassel and his wife escape to the garden to have sex instead of joining their friends. One of them mentions that the police might be coming and the Senechals leave to avoid arrest. There was an alleged fear of cocaine trafficking and again the party leaves in panic.
The women later visit a tea house that has run out of beverages and only has water. They meet a soldier who tells them about his life and the death of his mother (Kinder, 1999). According to the soldier, his heartless father took over his education and the mother, inform of a ghost informed him that was not his real father. He poisons and kills him following the ghost’s request. Meanwhile, when the Senechals return from their garden, they meet a bishop in their house and their friends long gone. They angrily throw him out and later embrace him with respect when he returns in his bishop’s robes. This clearly shows their prejudice, hypocrisy and snobbery. The bishop requests for a gardening job explaining his troubled childhood (Kinder, 1999). His parents were murdered and the criminal was never arrested. He later on goes to bless a dying man and when he finds out that it was the man who killed his parents; he first blesses him then kills him with a shotgun. This continues to express the level of hypocrisy among the characters in this film.
The film consists of a number of unsuccessful dinner parties with various interruptions such as the arrival of a group of army officers and a revelation that the French colonel’s dining room was a stage set for a performance in one of the dreams (Kinder, 1999). Confusing dream sequences are also presented with numerous ghost appearances. Bunuel continuously frustrates his characters by playing tricks on them. They are charmed towards fine dinners that they highly expect and later disappointed. It is important to note how they never stop trying and expect to attain all they desire. The most disappointing aspect about them is that although they express their anger politely, they think that they have a natural right to get everything they want and have others spoil them. The film showcases a sense of entitlement among characters, hypocrisy and corruption. Their fears are explored in the dreams. Characters are afraid of public humiliation, guns and being arrested by the police. Dream sequences are rooted in each other character’s dreams. Bunuel uses dreams within dreams in playing tricks on the audience as one tries to make sense of the story. The final sequence is of a repeater scene of six people walking purposefully and silently on a long isolated country road without a known destination (Kinder, 1999).
Bunuel was known for his unusual shooting style in this particular film that involved editing the film in camera during the production. He used video playback monitors on set that resulted to a different style. This was different from his usual static camera framing and close-ups. He was more comfortable and had limited direction employing more physical and technical instructions. According to Bunuel, physical appearance and movements were more essential as compared to motivation. The joke about him filming one of his dreams whenever he needed an extra scene is quite famous. This film consisted of three of Bunuel’s dreams; a dream of meeting his dead cousin, waking up to see his dead parents staring at him, and forgetting his lines on stage (Kinder, 1999).
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, 1972 is crowded with ambiguity from the very beginning with internal drama from characters (Kinder, 1999). The image of the wondering bourgeoisie at the beginning establishes a structure of inarticulateness; the audience needs to pay very close attention to how the film unfolds and the replacement of the film motion into closure and catharsis. As the audience we need to be attentive to have a chance at answering the questions that arise throughout the narration. The classical form of narration in this film has embraced the modern forms of bourgeois art accentuating harmony, order and proportion. Deceptive charm among characters is able to keep us fascinated with an endless glamour that sustains a sense of rationality. Bunuel has succeffully used a structural tool of the comic annoyance of interruptions. Some of the scenes are literally set for mockery reminding us of the hypocrisy characterizing the characters. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie has paved the way for other narrative filmmakers through the demonstration of coexistence between form and anti-form in film making.
Surrealism has been expressed through the constant redirection of dreams and juxtaposition of the main plot. The group’s desire to dine together is endlessly unfulfilled by a number of interruptions and diversions. The image of six characters walking down a country road reminds us of the lack and purpose ascribed to them by Bunuel (Kinder, 1999). This brings many questions among the audience on what could, might or just isn’t. By this way we can learn the rules of film engagement. Some important dialogue parts have been excluded leaving us to think the meaning due to sounds of low flying jets. Bunuel points out that an ideal life to him consists of two hours of being awake and twenty two of sleeping and dreaming. He often eliminated anything that has symbolic meaning in his films. Dreams are considered to be part of our daily lives and we can relate to the change of events between the real world and the overlapping dreams.
Bunuel is the original surrealist who used irony and a playful form in the creation of this film to start an interest within his audience. Dinner is a chief ritual for the middle class that shows richness and good manners (Kinder, 1999). It has been used in this film with a joke of interruptions that describe aristocracy in the society. Issues of drug dealing, murder, military coups, perversion and excruciating boredom are all showcased. Most of his main characters are rich though the supporting ones have a charming mood describing them. Bunuel uses dark comedy to show black humor. Humor has been used in serious subject matter to create light moments that the audience can easily relate to.
The use of dreams and dream interpretations in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie explores the relationship between surrealism and Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory that shows the interaction between the conscious and the unconscious mind. It aims at resurfacing conflicts and fears into the conscious mind through methods such as dream interpretation. There are a number of similarities between psychoanalysis and surrealism. They are both based on the nothingness mind. Psychoanalysis explains how our behaviors are influenced by the past while surrealism is influenced by the mind evoking feelings through the use of visual arts. Bunuel significantly expresses the relationship between surrealism and psychoanalysis in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie through dream comments and behaviors conjured from the subconscious minds of characters.
- Kinder, M. (1999). Luis Buñuel’s The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie. Cambridge [U.K.: Cambridge University Press.