Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The (UK Import) (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Jul 13, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The (UK Import) (4K UHD Review)

Director

Luis Bunuel

Release Date(s)

1972 (June 20, 2022)

Studio(s)

20th Century Fox (StudioCanal)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: B

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (4K UHD)

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Review

Director Luis Bunuel had planned to retire after finishing his 1970 film Tristana, but fortunately for the world of cinema, he realized that he had much more left to say. So, he ended up giving us three more films before his death, starting with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in 1972. With this film in particular, he bookended the savage kind of surrealism from his first film Un Chien Andalou (1929) with a more mannered but equally barbed attack on middle class sensibilities. The surrealism in this case is more, shall we say, discreet. The scenario that he concocted along with his long-time collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere included a combination of anecdotes from various people (including producer Serge Silberman), dreams that Bunuel had experienced personally, and also dreams which had been relayed to him by others. The film opens with the illusion of bourgeois normality, but the cracks that quickly develop soon fracture all hope that viewers will find any catharsis from his narrative.

Leave it to Bunuel to structure an entire film based on frustrating the expectations of both his characters and his audiences alike. The key conceit of the film is to disrupt any and all plans that his characters try to make. The film opens by inverting his 1962 film The Exterminating Angel, where people had found themselves unable to leave a dinner party. This time, the characters are unable to successfully have dinner in the first place. Every tryst in the film, whether gastronomic, sexual, or otherwise, ends up being interrupted or disrupted. There are even combined layers of assignations at various points throughout the film, all of which are marked by failure. This narrative discontinuity helps to prepare the viewer for the real discontinuity to follow. Gradually, dreams become reality and reality becomes dreams. The characters themselves also become discontinuous, as their superficially ordinary lives are often hiding a more sordid underbelly. Or are they really? Nothing is as it appears in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

Even the most seemingly obvious symbolism in the film can’t be taken at face value, especially the insert shots of all six main characters walking aimlessly down a country road. The easy, facile interpretation of that would be that the bourgeoisie are on a road to nowhere, but this film isn’t a Talking Heads song. Those shots were a late addition to the structure of the film, and Bunuel stubbornly resisted not just the superficial interpretation, but any interpretations whatsoever. These six characters may be in search of an author, but they’ll never actually find one, since Bunuel demurred ownership over them. Ever the trickster, Bunuel loved to lay traps for viewers who are prone to seeking decisive signification. The only logic that mattered to him was dream logic, and in many ways, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is the apotheosis of his own singular brand of surrealism.

Bunuel played the trickster in front of the camera as well. He had a general disdain for awards or honors, so when The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, he let Serge Silberman accept the Oscar at the ceremony. He only allowed himself to be photographed with it later while wearing a cartoonish wig, mustache, and sunglasses. That act alone may sum up Bunuel’s career better than any attempted interpretations of his films ever could.

Cinematographer Edmond Richard shot The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie on 35 mm film using Panavision cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.66:1 for its theatrical release. This 2022 restoration was performed by L’Image Retrouvee in Paris, under the supervision of StudioCanal, with the support of the Centre National du Cinema. The original camera negative was scanned at 4K resolution, digitally cleaned up frame-by-frame, and then graded for high dynamic range under Richard’s supervision (only HDR10 has been included on the disc). A few damaged portions of the negative had to be replaced by scans of an interpositive instead, in a relatively seamless fashion. The results are a drastic improvement over the previous master that StudioCanal had provided to Criterion for their Three Films by Luis Bunuel set. The differences are immediately obvious during the opening credits, which take place during a car ride at night. The Criterion disc had elevated black levels and washed-out contrast, but the blacks in the StudioCanal version are deep and true—almost a bit too much so, as some detail may have been lost in the process. That’s only during the credit sequence though, as there aren’t any significantly crushed blacks during the rest of the film. The improved contrast holds true throughout the entire film, as does a noticeable uptick in clarity and detail—fine textures like the costuming are better resolved, any damage has been erased, and the light layer of grain is managed well by the encode. The shots that were derived from an interpositive (including a small number of optical transitions) appear a bit less refined than the surrounding material, but they’re few and far between. The HDR grade provides better saturated colors compared to Criterion, but without ever tipping over the edge into oversaturation. Everything seems to be accurate to the original intentions of Bunuel and Richard, and there’s no question that this is the best presentation of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie available on home video.

Audio is offered in French 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, German 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, and English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional French HOH, German, and English subtitles. The original sound elements were also restored in 2022, and while it’s a straightforward mono track, there’s no significant distortion, noise, or any other artifacts to distract from the dialogue.

StudioCanal’s 4K Ultra HD release of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray copy of the film in 1080p. The UHD is region free, but the Blu-ray is Region B locked. There’s also a slipcover that duplicates the artwork on the insert. The extras aren’t identical on both discs—two of them are missing from the UHD, and the remainder are also presented in a different order than they are on the Blu-ray:

DISC ONE: UHD

  • Interview with Jean-Claude Carriere (HD – 24:22)
  • Analysis of 3 Scenes of the Film (HD – 19:45)
  • Critical Analysis of Charles Tesson (HD – 31:05)
  • New Trailer (HD – 1:12)

DISC TWO: BD

  • Critical Analysis of Peter William Evans (HD – 34:14)
  • Interview with Jean-Claude Carriere (HD – 24:22)
  • Trailer (Upscaled SD – 2:56)
  • Analysis of 3 Scenes of the Film (HD – 19:45)
  • Critical Analysis of Charles Tesson (HD – 31:05)
  • New Trailer (HD – 1:12)

The first Critical Analysis is an interview with film critic and historian Charles Tesson. He offers a history of the production, analyzes the film’s dream structure, and notes some the contradictions that aren’t immediately obvious on a first viewing. (He also makes the interesting point that none of the women in the film are shown having dreams, though he doesn’t speculate on the reasons why.) The second Critical Analysis is an interview with Peter William Evans, author of The Films of Luis Bunuel: Subjectivity and Desire. He calls The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie the most dream-conscious film that Bunuel ever made. He covers a variety of topics such as the genesis of the story, the nature of the characters, Bunuel’s social conscience, and the dream sequences. Appropriately enough, he doesn’t try to offer a definitive interpretation of anything in the film. The Analysis of 3 Scenes of the Film features Tesson examining three different sequences: the opening meeting, the second meeting, and the theatre meeting. It’s essentially a selected scene commentary track, and while Tesson does sometimes describe the action as it unfolds, he still provides interesting thoughts about the frequently subtle ways that Bunuel subverted expectations. Finally, the Interview with writer Jean-Claude Carriere features the writer giving his own experiences working on the film, including an explanation for why the title was chosen, and he also shares his feelings about his relationship with Bunuel.

None of the extras from Criterion’s Three Films by Luis Bunuel set are included here: the documentary Speaking of Luis Bunuel; the two French television episodes Making The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Once Upon a Time; and the documentary footage of Bunuel at home in Mexico City, The Castaway of Providence Street. Criterion undoubtedly has the edge with their more extensive extras package, but StudioCanal still offers a decent selection of extras, and the real star of the show here is the restoration itself. A few years ago, anyone who had “Luis Bunuel on UHD” on their home video bingo card would have looked like a hopeless dreamer, but thanks to StudioCanal, those dreams have now become reality. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie may defy easy explanations, but the quality of this 4K restoration couldn’t be any clearer.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)

 

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