When It Was Still Possible To Laugh At the Rich In a Kind Relaxed Manner – Without Any Sarcastic Strain

You cannot hate the stupid, avaricious people in “The District Charm…”; their dreams are too funny; they are endowed with a reluctantly charming dimension…
Carlos Fuentes

Bunuel plays cinema as Bach plays organ

In one of his interviews Bunuel makes a distinction between a bourgeois proper, as he is supposed to be (comme il faut), and a bourgeois discreet. He gives himself in the former example.
(Jose de la Colina and tomas Perez Turrent, “Objects of Desire [Conversations with Louis Bunuel]”, Marsilio Press, 1992, p. 209

A note for the 21st century viewers

According to the images of “The Discreet Charm…” the absolute monarchy of bourgeoisie is very difficult to achieve – financial moguls are too impatient and too anarchic: they rush to wealth as a person with food poisoning to the latrine. It’s not surprising that many of them are successful – latrines are generous. But the recent developments – unprecedented intensification of corporate domination’s controlling power over American population and globally, tells us that corporate decision-makers are successful in beating with baseball bats to death the idea that bourgeoisie will not be able to unconditionally dominate the world. If they could know who Bunuel was and is they would consider him as something like the very devil of the evil or the very evil of the devil.

Of course, the bourgeoisie today is not what it was when Bunuel observed it. They completely got rid of their discreet charm. As a matter of fact, they got rid of any charm. They don’t need it anymore – extra-money as a seducing, bribing and a commanding tool does a better job of providing extra-profit. As there was a narrow but a gap between the Soviet leading “socialists” fed on the revolution and Stalin‘s security apparatus of 30-50s, there is some mutation between Bunuel’s bourgeoisie and the corporate grabbers and goof-makers of today. It is not that the bourgeois’ of the far or recent past didn’t do those things, but, Bunuel said it – they tried to do it with discreet charm. The difference is not huge, but we see it today in the corporate chain wars and the financial collapses (as a form of making money on the losses by having the public pay), in the austerity for everybody else and in neocon meanness and brutality which are much more radical than before.

Let’s watch how Bunuel proves that bourgeoisie will be defeated not by the “prols”, “terrorists” or “commies” but by their own freakishness, and how he proves that the bourgeois’ spirit will survive defeats as a corporate ghost to continue forever its attempts to dominate/to doom the world. But will Bunuel’s diagnosis really apply to bourgeoisie’s today’s revolting mutants? Their mutation which we know too well in the beginning of the 21st century, started right in the film. It is the difference between Senechals and the Bishop Dufour, between Thevenot’s wife and Raphael-the Ambassador and between Thevenot’s wife and her younger sister. But it is also the difference between realistic scenes and nightmares of the characters, and between realistic- and night-dreams scenes on the one hand and symbolic sequences of the characters’ destiny on the other (when, for example, they are all walking on the same road in opposite directions), as if, written by Bunuel for their eternity.

Luis Bunuel works on the set
Bunue directs Delphine Seyrig (Simone Thevenot)

Bunuel is listening to Fernando Rey’s (Rafael Acosta, Ambassador of the fictional Latin American Republic of Miranda) suggestions

Bunuel is showing Delphine Seyrig and Fernando Rey the exact movements of the erotically calculative (the Ambassador’s) and calculatively erotic (Thevenot’s wife’s) games

Wealthy individuals’ charming hospitality and generosity

Henri Senechal’s (Jean-Perre Cassel) night-dream visit to the colonel’s place (in the background, between Henri and his wife, is the Ambassador, himself a master of hateful night-dreaming

Francois Thevenot (in the middle – Paul Frankeur), who has invested so much of his life in Don Rafael to tie him through future marriage with his sister in law Florence (on the left – Bulle Ogier), keeps the arrogant ambassador on the hook by discreetly reminding him who is really high society here.

Alice Senechal innocently but generously flirts with Rafael, but Simone Thevenot (on the left), it seems, taking it seriously

Henri Senechal offers the ambassador additional pieces of lamb

Charming Francois Thevenot’s pantomime with cash and cocain/Francois Thevenot’s charming pantomime with cash and cocaine/Charming Francois’ Thevenot’s equally charming pantomime with cash and cocaine

It is the briefcase itself smiling with Francois’ wide face (always carrying enigmatic expression), when both enter the office of the Embassy of the Republic de Miranda

Secretary of the Embassy is gallantly leaving the room

The secretary leaves the ambassador with his business guests

To see disinterested friendship is always pleasant and encouraging

Here, we see a little séance of commercial magic (on which civilization stands) – the multiple transformation of the briefcase, at first, into…

… crispy banknotes, secondly, into an enigmatic leather bag, a kind of a commercial stomach able to vomit the valuable goods, and finally, into…

… precious white powder, when all the items of the exchange magic are scrupulously checked for their magical quality

Charmingly cheerful Henri and Alice Senechals

Cocain from the Republic de Miranda, as we see, is a preambulartory phase of sexual ritual between Henri and his charming wife (Stephane Audran).

Well, not like this… yet

Senechals run to the garden, farther from the maids and guests

That’s how sexually satisfied woman looks upon returning to the world – with the understanding that this world is orgasmically empty, that daylight is prosaic and boring

Gardening Bishop Mgr. Dufour

Gardening Bishop (Julien Bertheau) applies for the job (the gardening jobs await for Bishops)

Senechals are confused – they suspect pranks, jokes and tricks. And then the Bishop reappears in front of them in authentic gardening outfit. But which one is his real garb – the Bishop’s or the gardener’s?

Of course, the Bishop had very peculiar motivation to combine “bishoping” with gardening, or is it rather the gardener had a special reasons to become a Bishop? It looks that the gardener and Bishop are two identities of Mr. Dufour which somehow fit together.

Simone Thevenot and the Ambassador of Miranda Rafael Acosta

Look at Don Rafael! With what an admiring dedication and dedicated admiration he stares at Delphine Seyrig whom Bunuel for this scene asked just to read from the restaurant menu, and she does it with an incredible – melodic and streamlined French adored by foreigners

While pursuing chat with Mr. Thevenot, Rafael stimulates himself with physical closeness of Thevenot’s wife while thinking that his game is a secret and daringly transgressive

Simone complains to Raphael about her condition…

… in order to postpone (to cook up better) the inevitable…

… but eventually she herself becomes involved when the time is near for her husband to arrive. Pluralism of causes and effects and the multidirectionality of reasoning are aspects of bourgeois charm.

Wealthy in the nomadic Hell of their own making

The never-ending and always opened paths to self-enrichment

Seductive tautology of money-hunting

The road from profit to more profit

The tireless path of pathos for more and more money

Endless round-trips of wealth-achievers, where meeting cash and separating from it are the same experience (investing includes the feeling of loss framed as hope to gain more)

Tiring but brisk, downing but exciting experience of money-searching

Financial short-circuits as enhancing transformation of living into moving, of being into rushing

The proud routes of the moneyvorous race

A charmingly exuberant party

Florence, Simone’s younger sister, is posing in Napoleon’s or Napoleon hat that barely fits her

While Florence was playing with Napoleon’s hat the Colonel, the host of the party was badmouthing Republic de Miranda

As a result of the scandalous exchange between the colonel and the ambassador the colonel was fatally punished by Don Rafael for his blasphemy – the honor of his country was proudly protected by its ambassador.

Justified and irrational and irrationally justified fears

The ambassador and Thevenots are always afraid of the SWAT teams

Henri Senechal (Jean-Pierre Cassel) couldn’t believe when he understood that the horrific quarrel between the colonel and ambassador was all his nightmare

But when the Ambassador started to shoot from the embassy window, Senechal thought that he is dreaming, but it was reality, or was it? Bunuel emphasizes here a paradoxical type of reality, which is ontologically speaking – real, but is not real in its meaning (the kind we in the 21st century experience every day).

All our charming protagonists were arrested for alleged drug trafficking, but who exactly was dreaming it? – The reality itself? Today it’s called – strategic planning.

Alas, the inevitable burdens

Proclaiming openly and proudly the connection between business deals and war-making is a new style, a post-charming behavior.

Those involved in business tied to war are fond of dreams, stories and imaginary situations. Here we see how the army sergeant gets colonel’s permission to recite his night-dream before unit will leave for the business of war.

The use of drugs during wars is well known as an official policy, but as weapon drugs today are much stronger and much more dangerous than it was in Bunuel’s times. Ambassador Acosta (in the background) obviously is not endorsing the use of dope for the officers and soldiers. The crooks are often demonstratively righteous towards the sins of others.

Torture that is “a no-brainer“

Of course, a film about international corporation – Thevenots/Senechals/Ambassador Acosta cannot be without torture which is, as we have learned recently, a no-brainer.

This particular shot was left out of the final version of the film, but, may be, this is my own night-dream, a non-bourgeois one (about not seeing/not consuming something: here, the torture), but as soon as this photo exists, this scene is a reality.

The torture of the young boy with a hippie appearance includes specifically psychological intimidation: the presence of an old piano with its Gothic connotation and timeless insects

Terrorism as an archetype carried out by the psyche of the wealthy

And as it was already apparent four and half decades ago, the film about “international corporation with diplomatic connection” cannot be without terrorists.

One of the terrorists Bunuel depicts here is ambassador Rafael Acosta’s personal bodyguard.

The Ambassador was able to save his own life by timely jumping under the table with several pieces of lamb. During the extermination of his friends by the machinegunners he needed to urgently reinforce his vitality with additional meat.

We are dealing here with Don Rafael’s realistic night-dream about his oral needs during possible terrorist attack.

When terrorists found him under the table with meat something made them stop

May be, terrorists became afraid of Fernando Rey’s facial expression – may be, they felt that they‘re dealing not already with a human being but with a kind of supernatural – super-cunning creature – “salamander of the destiny, basilisk of success” (Vladimir Nabokov), semi-devil/semi-robot?

Charming fear of being ghosts

The fear of being not real, but – protagonists of some historical play…

… can be anybody’s nightmare amongst the heroes of Bunuel’s film, but it is a permanent fear of the people who, because of their obsessive occupation with trying to super-protect themselves by their super-wealth from life, have lost their humanity.


The psychological condition of the wealthy and trying to become wealthy people at the time Bunuel reflecting upon in his film, today, in the 21st century, has radically, although not essentially, changed. Bunuel’s bourgeoisies are still human. Of course, they are obsessed with wealth but in a human psychological context – it felt pleasant and even necessary not to be vulnerable to everyday life and to be able confidently “preside” over their human needs and dependencies. But today – while much more people in comparison with the 60s-70s yearn to be super-wealthy, those who reached super-wealth and those who are near this goal are… mutated into becoming something like an appendix to their feverish technical calculations of how to become wealthier. The career-wealthy (C-W) today had to became not only meticulous specialists in how to become Super-Wealthy (S-W), but their technical knowledge and instrumental self-mobilization for this purpose became such a large segment of their personalities, took so much concentration, so much control over their humanity, that it is practically occupying the psychological space of their whole personality. It is, as if a robot was occupying the human body and soul with its instrumental calculations and functions.

In other words, a human being with S-W complex and S-W day- and night-dreams has been transformed into a robot with the technical task of becoming C-W, and you cannot laugh at a robot, like Bunuel could do at his wealthy protagonists. Robots are beyond humor and irony: robot is a thing made oriented on becoming more of a thing – bigger, stronger, harder, more efficient, mechanical and more indifferent, more rigid and simultaneously more innovatively oriented in its calculations.

Still, “The Discreet Charm of Bourgeoisie” (DCB) is superlatively valuable – it shows the historical roots of today’s corporate monarchy, its etiology. And this film represents a psychologically healthy way of looking at C-W – without submissiveness and servility and, on the other hand, without boiling resentment. Today in US the worshiping C-W becomes a widespread position amidst population, but C-W need compassion and understanding of their psychological misery, and Bunuel’s empathic humor and relaxed sarcasm is much more adequate to C-Ws particular psychological weakness. What in the protagonists of DCB were their discernible human deficits, for today‘s wealthy became their damnation. Let’s, together with Bunuel, indulge in recognizing the humanity of his characters in comparison with the monstrous present condition of C-W (career-wealthy) today.

According to Bunuel’s film, already few decades ago the entrepreneurial imagination had difficulties in differentiating between fantasy and reality, between dreams and their realization in life, between day- and night-dreaming and real life. Bunuel not only addresses this non-differentiation as a cognitive defect, but stylizes it by transforming it into the very stylistic principle of the DCB. Sliding along the narrative trajectories we move from the night-dream of one character through short island of reality to the night-dream of the other and see that C-W connect with one another and with life not realistically, but by the logic of their dreams and nightmares. They build their social relations by the trajectories of their wishful thinking, and they become irrationally infuriated at any intervention of reality.

Apologists of the inability to differentiate between fantasy and reality (mainly, C-W making money on this non-differentiation by the consumers), defend their right to make profit on keeping the human mind (that of human psychological wholeness) in an underdeveloped condition. The protagonists of DCB are not too smart even by (pre-scientific) common sense criterion. But today’s neo-cons try to compensate for their emotional primitivism by the technical-scientific knowledge systematically developed by today’s system under their pressure at the cost of reducing humanistic sciences and education. Technical-scientific brain operations have a robotic qualities. But robots don’t have humanity (they don’t understand death) and can (unintentionally) endanger human species through robotization of thinking.

Several motivations are discernible in Bunuel’s charming bourgeois protagonists whom he called “cockroaches” in one of his interviews. To understand these motivations we must remember that they are not 21st century neo-con robots of profit-making/profit-mining. They are, as if, adopted children of democracy. They are a kind of hybrids of democrats and conservatives – conservative in substance (which in Don Rafael is ready to engulf him and, as in the scene of quarrel with colonel, does it quite successfully) and liberal in rituals of civility and manneristic verbalizations. They are people of power and manners.

First of all, the heroes of the film are motivated by a gravitational attraction to the milieu of people of the same kind (Rafael Acosta is attaching himself to Thevenots and Senechals and they to him like microorganisms of the same colony). Of course, the tendency towards adhesion to one’s own kind and the phobia of otherness is a universal feature, but several decades ago the bourgeois were still human, while in the 21st century that which was the bourgeois sub-specie of humanity has turned into a peculiar neocon-robotism. What used to be attachment to the identical/similar has become the position of eliminating otherness and keeping its remnants under the strictest control through austerity and mass-cultural disorientation.

The second feature of the main characters in DCB is their permanent calculation of profit and advantage – not only with enemies or using people they are indifferent to, but no less using friends and lovers. The third feature is that their manipulation of people doesn’t contradict sincere genuineness of their emotional ties. They can fool others with cheerful friendliness. And yet their other feature which came to be not without the influence of their “liberal”, hedonistic side is orientation on pleasant emotions, use of smiles and compliments with people to create a pleasant atmosphere and to enjoy it.

The protagonists of DCB glue to each other as a privileged social class over subordinate people. They stick together above the reality of the poor. Thevenots, Senechals and the Ambassador act like a unit – again, a universal tendency in human history. The bishop glues to them, and as does the colonel who presides over his own “colony” of militaries. Policemen are another “microbial colony” sticking together not only physically but psychologically – a feature congruent with today‘s climate of heightened antagonism between “keepers of order” (including mercenaries and private contractors) and the “public”.

One more feature of the bourgeois heroes of the DCB is their immature entrepreneurial acting out (like crude drug dealing leading to the arrest, albeit temporal, of all of them). These people are too impulsive, not rational and disciplined enough. It is not surprising that from this kind of people came today’s Meat Romneys and hiders of profits from taxation – offshore, in foreign banks. Financial crashes and economic busts created by these people is a loud warning (unfortunately, amidst deaf ears).

Some of C-W of the last century watched Bunuel’s DCB and the only thing they understood in the film was that Bunuel’s bourgeoisie cannot have dinner in peace – so, for all these years they tried hard to prove that they are able to have the best dinners ever and in more comfortable arrangements than anybody else. They hire (for taxpayers’ money, of course) private armies. They use the American and European armies to defend their profits and comforts. But they are even more laughable than before in their spiritual poverty and psychological misery, in their money gluttony and apoplectic strength of their power. Bunuel’s “The Discreet Charm of Bourgeoisie” will be always ahead of them. DCB’s frustrating dinners were just a metaphor for C-W illusion that money will save them – liberate them from the otherness of the world which will continue to mock at their sweaty efforts to conquer and dominate the stubborn life. Like the heroes’ of DCB their destiny is to walk forward and back on the highways of Hell, which are made especially for them (Communists and Fascists use there other arrangements).

Posted on April 6 2015 –   “The Discreet Charm of Bourgeoisie” (1972) by Luis Bunuel by Acting-Out Politics