Luis Buñuel Pauline Kael - Essay

Pauline Kael

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" is a cosmic vaudeville show—an Old Master's mischief…. Luis Buñuel is no longer savage about the hypocrisy and the inanity of the privileged classes. They don't change, and since they have become a persistent bad joke to him, he has grown almost fond of their follies—the way one can grow fond of the snarls and the silliness of vicious pets. He looks at them now and they're such perfectly amoral little beasts they amuse him; he enjoys their skin-deep proprieties, their faith in appearances, their sublime confidence. At the same time, this Spanish exile-expatriate may have come to a point in life when the hell he has gone through to make movies is receding into the past, like an old obscene story; he is so relaxed about his medium now that he enjoys pinching its nose, pulling its tail. He has become a majestic light prankster—not a bad way for a man full of disgust and pity to age. The movie is slight, but it has a special enchantment: it's a development—more like an emanation—of Buñuel's movies which couldn't have been expected but which seems right; that is, the best thing that could have happened. Buñuel's cruelty and mockery were often startlingly funny, but they were also sadistic; that was the power of his work and part of what made his films scandalous. He was diabolically antibourgeois, and he wasn't just anticlerical—he was hilariously, murderously anticlerical. Here his old rages have become buoyant jokes. (Might Swift without his disease have ended up like this?) This movie comes close to serenity, and it's a deep pleasure to see that the unregenerate anarchist-atheist has found his own path to grace. Buñuel has never given in, never embraced the enemy, and maybe that's why the tone of this spontaneous chamber music is so happy. (p. 41)

Pauline Kael, "Anarchist's Laughter" (originally published in The New Yorker, Vol. XLVIII, No. 38, November 11, 1972), in her Reeling (copyright © 1972 by Pauline Kael; reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company in association with the Atlantic Monthly Press), Atlantic-Little, Brown, 1976, pp. 41-6.∗