18. “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”, Luis Bunuel (1972)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

The Discreet Charm of Bourgeoisie.jpg

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie aka Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie

dir. Luis Bunuel scr. Luis Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere cin. Edmond Richard with Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Stephane Audran, Bulle Ogier, and Jean-Pierre Cassel

In 100 words: Bunuel reached the zenith of his surreal genius with this hilarious, bitingly satirical, and intelligent film about a group of rich snoots trying to have dinner. There’s really no plot to it, but how inventive is that loopy dream structure? On top of that, Bunuel uses these people’s inability to actually finish a meal to point out whatever Bunuel thinks is wrong about European society: their wealth, the Church, the military, the preying politicians, and the group’s own moral shortcomings. It’s full of rich semiotics, taking down society one by one until there’s nothing left. Funny, dense, and a dream.

Other Movies for Context: The closest Bunuel movie to this is The Exterminating Angel (1962), which is built on a group of wealthy people who are unable to leave a room for some reason and start to do dumb things in the process. But funny enough, the dream structure reminds me of Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010) except without having to explain its genius concept.

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49. “Belle de Jour”, Luis Bunuel (1967)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list

Belle de Jour

Belle de Jour

dir. Luis Bunuel scr. Luis Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere based on the book by Joseph Kessel cin. Sacha Vierny with Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Genevieve Page, and Pierre Clementi

In 100 words: In this darkly funny, sexy, and provocative film, Bunuel finds room to address all of his obsessions about the sexual desires of the bourgeois. Belle is a surreal masterpiece: a bored housewife who fulfills her inner fantasies by becoming a prostitute in a Parisian brothel, entertaining odd men with peculiar desires. That Bunuel focuses on a woman’s sexual thoughts and fantasies, even the lewd and filthy ones is casually transgressive. More importantly, he builds a world of ironies and unexpected character details—the family who lives in the brothel, the hilarious posturing of the young gangster, and Severine’s unexpected pleasures.

Other Movies for Context: Oh Bunuel, I love his work so much, and this is always such a treat to watch. When I think of this movie, the one that pops to mind immediately is Sleeping Beauty (2011), by Julia Leigh, because of its similar look and topic. Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2001) and Paul Verhoeven’s Elle (2016) both have Isabelle Huppert playing women with sexual desires that are particularly sadistic, but their directors are intelligent enough to engage with those desires rather than play them up for laughs or quirks.

68. “Viridiana”, Luis Bunuel (1961)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Viridiana

Viridiana

dir. Luis Bunuel scr. Julio Alejandro and Luis Bunuel cin. Jose F. Aguayo with Silvia Pinal, Francisco Rabal, Fernando Rey, Margarita Lozano

In 100 words: The master of satire and irony has fashioned his most brutal takedown of the Franco regime and the Catholic Church in this comically bleak film. Viridiana is like great literature: rich in symbolism and social critique but married to Bunuel’s unique sense of wit, humor and visual grammar. Each scene is incredibly designed—Bunuel doesn’t always reveal his cards upfront, nor is he exactly subtle, but his assured direction ensures that the payoffs land hard. And boy do they sting: his views on the folly of sainthood and charity and the darkness of human nature are dense, insightful, and uncompromising.

Other Movies for Context: Bunuel is one of my absolute favorite directors ever because his work shows tremendous skill in the use of irony and satire. Viridiana feels close in association with Los Olvidados (1951), a fine satire similar in its bleakness to this one. I also see a lot of L’Age d’Or (1932) in this one, only more bitter and cynical. Bunuel will make two more appearances on this list.