The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
In Luis Buñuel’s deliciously satiric masterpiece, an upper-class sextet sits down to dinner but never eats, their attempts continually thwarted by a vaudevillian mixture of events both actual and imagined. Fernando Rey, Stéphane Audran, Delphine Seyrig, and Jean-Pierre Cassel head the extraordinary cast of this 1972 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film. Criterion is proud to present The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in an exclusive double-disc special edition.
The Criterion Collection’s 2000 DVD edition of Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie presents the film on the first dual-layer disc of this 2-disc set in the aspect ratio of about 1.75:1 (though the back lists 1.66:1). The presentation, sourced from a then-new high-definition restoration (scanned from a 35mm interpositive), has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Though still littered with marks (which get a bit heavy in places) the restoration is a solid one, for the time anyways. The standard-definition presentation does manage to deliver detail, even finer ones, delivering a decent crispness. Compression isn’t too bad, with grain even making an appearance and not looking like a noisy mess (though some management has obviously been done), and upscaled the picture holds up decently enough. There are some jaggies on occasion, along with odd screen stutters where it looks like the image jumps, but overall the standard-definition image is a decent one.
Colours are a bit muted, though the occasional red does manage to pop. Black levels can be a bit mushy and detail is limited in darker scenes. As mentioned, there is still quite a bit of damage, though it only really pops it head up once a while. Good chunks of the film will be incredibly clean, with a small blemish popping up here and there, and then sudden instances where a large collection of marks suddenly rain through.
Criterion has released the film on Blu-ray, though sadly have simply polished this master and delivered it in its full resolution. Oddly, that only enhanced some of the issues inherent to the master that DVD compression seems to have hidden. For the format this presentation isn’t terrible, but the film really does need a new restoration.
The French soundtrack, presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono, is flat and limited in both fidelity and range, but it gets the job done, and there are no severe instances of damage.
To commemorate what would have been Buñuel’s 100th birthday, Criterion put together this decent, if unspectacular 2-disc edition for the film. The first dual-layer disc, which holds the film, also presents the film’s original theatrical trailer along with the 24-minute documentary, The Castaway of Providence Street, put together from footage of Buñuel that had been filmed by Arturo Ripstein through the 60’s and 70’s, mixed in with discussions with those that knew him. It ends up being a profile of the man himself and his ability to mix martinis (though Buñuel does talk about his work to a certain degree) that, while entertaining to an extent, does feel a little shallow on the surface. This is also a shorter edit (the same as how it was shown on the DVD) that drops footage from his films.
The second dual-layer disc then presents the 99-minute documentary, A propósito de Buñuel (Speaking of Buñuel), made in 2000 for Buñuel’s 100th birthdays and directed by José Luis López-Linares. The film gathers together many that knew the director (from longtime friends to those that worked with him) or academics to discuss the director’s life and work, from childhood to his last film, That Obscure Object of Desire. The format is familiar, stepping through Buñuel’s life story step-by-step through interviews and archival footage (even archival interviews with the filmmaker), but it is nicely edited and moves at a good beat. It’s issue is that it does speed through everything, only focusing a small amount of time on a handful of films, Bourgeoisie only getting a brief mention (the short Simon of the Desert ends up receiving more time, though charmingly the documentary presents “new” interviews with the locals that appeared in that film).
The disc then closes with a text feature listing all of Buñuel’s films. The included fold-out insert then featured an essay on Buñuel and how he saw the world (as represented by this film) by Carlos Fuentes, along with an excerpt from Buñuel’s My Last Sigh where the filmmaker explains how one should make a martini. The essay, though short, did help me in placing the film in its original context at the time (this was my first Buñuel film at the time) and I the little excerpt from his book is fun.
Though the documentary is a decent one, especially for newcomers, this edition still felt pretty light, the lack of any real academic features, particularly a commentary, always being a bit irksome.
The film really does need a new restoration as the DVD does what it can with the presentation. For a 2-disc set the features still feel pretty light.