The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie(Criterion)
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 20, 2000
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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Graphical Version
The Movie:

"The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie" was (and still is often considered) the most popular work of filmmaker Luis Bunuel, who also made the famed "Belle Du Jour". "Discreet Charm" was re-released in theaters earlier this year in a newly restored print, and also makes its way to DVD in a restored version thanks to the Criterion Collection. The movie is wonderfully engaging and spirited, and yet also very simple in terms of the plot.

The movie revolves around six people who simply would like to sit down to eat. Unfortunately, they are constantly interrupted by various accidents or events. They come to a restaurant where the owner has just passed away, or get mixed up, or the fact that soldiers seemed to have picked the wrong time to be in the area to do millitary exercises.

The film makes comments on high society and several other targets during its running time, which also gets increasingly surreal as the film goes on, slipping in and out of dreams with control. In a time where movies are almost too straight from point A to point B often, I enjoy watching "Discreet Charm" in the way that what's coming next seems often completely unexpected, and yet logical in the universe that the film creates. There is little plot and yet, there seems to be so much in the details of small events that are carried out or told throughout. The performers are also excellent, with attitudes about them that are funny and fit well with the tone of the movie. When it was released in 1972, it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.


VIDEO: "Discreet Charm" recieves the Criterion magic touch, and the results are very impressive, as pleasing as their work last month with "Gimme Shelter". In fact, I wish that the studio had included a restoration demonstration as they have with "Shelter" and "Brief Encounter", because I'm sure that they must have done quite a bit of work here as well to restore the film to this level of clarity. The movie is presented in a 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer, and some of it actually looks "like new". Sharpness and detail are often nothing short of remarkable for a movie of it's age (now 28 years old).

Although much of the film has been cleaned up for this presentation, a few minor problems still appear now and then, but certainly less than I'd expect to see. Some slight instances of print flaws in the form of speckles appear now and then, but are often not distracting or even that noticable. I noticed no shimmering, pixelation or other flaws. Some scenes seem very lightly grainy, but this is also hardly noticable.

Colors are well-defined and still fairly lively, especially in some of the daylight exterior scenes. Flesh tones seem accurate and natural throughout. Although there is no restoration demonstration, Criterion has still included their usual "About The Transfer" notes in the booklet. They say, "The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie" is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Created on a Spirit Datacine and enhanced for 16x9 televisions, this new high-definition digital transfer was mastered from a 35mm intermediate positive, made from the original negative. The sound was mastered from a 35mm optical soundtrack." Overall a very strong presentation - certainly a lot of work has been done to give this movie a fresh, clean look for the DVD.

SOUND: The film is presented in French mono and it sounds perfectly fine. Although I certainly don't understand the dialogue as I don't speak French, it seemed to be clear and cleaner than I'd expected it to sound, with no thin or edgy quality to them. The film itself isn't too busy, so I was pleased to hear the track capture nicely some occasional outdoor or background sounds. I didn't hear any instances of distortion or other problems, and all of the elements of the audio are presented very well.

MENUS:: The menus offer a scene from the movie playing in the background (in a different color depending on which disc - sort of like what Criterion did for a very different title - the "Beastie Boys Anthology"), and music.


Theatrical Trailer: First on disc one is the theatrical trailer, presented in 1.66:1 and looking still in fine condition.

The Castaway On The Street Of Providence: This is a 24 minute documentary by some of the director's friends showing him doing one of the things he liked most - mixing Martinis. There are also some interviews with those who knew him, but these are fairly slight for the most part. Still, I found it to be an interesting watch, although it seems to be in only fair condition for the most part - with some noticeable wear in the form of scratches and marks at times throughout. The film is presented in full-frame and is in Spanish with English subtitles.

Speaking Of Bunuel: This is a new 98 minute documentary on the work of the director, and it is the main feature of the second DVD in this release from Criterion. The documentary is also in French and Spanish (and a little bit in English), but has English subtitles that can be turned on or off via the remote. The program is extremely well-done, giving the viewer a wealth of information about the director's history. There are a great number of interviews that are very insightful about the director's life and filmmaking efforts, and although I can't say that I'm very familiar with the span of his work, I really gained a further interest in exploring other films after watching this beautifully done documentary program. It tells the viewer so much and in a way that isn't dry or slow.

Also: Bunuel bio, color bars.

Final Thoughts: Criterion has really done fine work yet again restoring this picture. The video quality is not completely flawless, but the great majority of it looks very fresh and clean. Audio quality is fine, and the documentary feature is a really superb addition.

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