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The Discreet Charm of Bourgeoise Time

by Amber Bowyer

Gilles Deleuze deploys Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in his first book on Cinematic philosophy, Cinema 1: The Movement Image, in order to examine the nature of impulse and repetition as toosls which we can be used to craft an image of time. The film concerns a group of upper class people who continually meet up in various gatherings, but are for one reason or another, deterred from ever eating the meal they set out to enjoy.

The film’s message seems to be critical of the bourgeois practice of perverting natural pleasure and gratification through baroque ritual. The film’s scenes are a progression of different portrayals of such illogical systems which delay the fulfillment of desire: overdelicate social rule, incomprehensible religiosity, diplomacy’s political stasis and the ineffective logistical grappling of militarism and materialism. By extension, the pleasure of cinema is likewise a bourgeois perversion, a proxy for real experience or a delay of it, a precious ritual which subverts or diverts our primal impulses.

Deleuze finds Buñuel’s film a demonstration of the way repetition is a particular temporal feature put into the service of acting against impulse. He describes Buñuel’s strategy as creating potential “time images” of a particular sort: the scene. Although scenes are a commonplace unit of space-time in cinema, Buñuel’s surreal and unexpectedly abrupt configuration of their boundaries creates a unique perspective on what may comprise them. His scenes are simplified aggregations of occurrences, of delays, removed as much as is possible from any realistic motivation of desire or transformation.


These scenes are incepted and curtailed without ever culminating in the event they, by their bourgeois trappings, portend, Deleuze argues because of the force of repetition itself.  He claims that repetition as a force is what motivates the failure of gratification in the film: “The bad repetition does not occur simply because the event fails. It is that which makes the event fail, as in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, where the repetition of lunch pursues its work of degradation.” (132) Using another Buñuel film as an example of two contrasting forms of repetition, he theorizes “bad repetition keeps the [action static inasmusch as] boundaries cannot be crossed, while good repetition seems to abolish the limits and open them on to the world.” (132)

Good repetition is something of a transgressive ideal, since, although the appearance of exactitude in repetition would present itself as repetition’s power, actually, according to Deleuze, the inability of repetition to identically replicate anything which has temporally preceded it without the inclusion of the emergent or new relegates repetition “bad,” or temporally mundane… The upshot of this commentary on The Discreet Charm is that adherence to this repetitive iteration of derivative presences is politically oppressive, bourgeois.

Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Deleuze

a Clip from Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie that Deleuze mentioned in his writing.

from Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
Creator: Luis Bunuel
Posted by Chang Choi
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