25 June 2006 | EdgarST
The Discreet Charm in México
I discovered surrealist cinema as an adult. Of course, there are such scenes and images in many films, but I saw the first complete surrealist movie as a grown up. It was "Belle de jour", a film by Luis Buñuel, whose work I knew since watching his "Robinson Crusoe" in my childhood. Buñuel had gone a long way since 1928's "Un chien andalou", made in France. He had gone into exile during the Spanish Civil War, first to the United States and finally to México, where he spent the rest of his life. But he made films in Europe now and then, and had regained his status as one of the masters of world cinema. Although he did not think much of his Mexican motion pictures, his masterpiece "El ángel exterminador" is my favorite of all his films. He once complained that Mexican actors were not able to convey the spirit of the "haute bourgeoisie", but what he did not take into consideration was that, if he made a film in México about the rich, he was dealing with something else, called "creole oligarchies." And in this sense, this farce of the 1960s' Latin American "filthy rich" is most accurate. Moreover, with his usual affectionate treatment of the bourgeois (something he rarely did with clergy, female characters, or street urchins), he created a most believable funny portrait of the Latino rich people, who do not know what is their origin, who they should "pay tribute to", or where they are headed, unlike their European ancestors. Here, a group of those characters, born in México, gather for dinner after an opera performance, but when the time comes to leave the house of the Nobiles they cannot leave the room where they reunited for gossiping after meal. There is no apparent reason they cannot leave, but there they stay for days, going back to a primitive state in which their dearest "discreet charm" (euphemism, the rule of the game, as in Renoir's 1939 film) vanishes. And when they are set free, and go to a church to thank the Lord... well, Buñuel sure knew how to make fun of them, with situations verging on the fantastic and funny lines of incoherent, silly or ridiculous dialogue. A wonderful movie, which is always fun to watch again, especially in a double bill with another gem, the last one Buñuel made in México: "Simón del desierto."