Vanity Fare

The European art cinema that Discreet Charm epitomized may be a relic, but in some ways Buñuel's movie feels oddly contemporary. The smug consumption notes by which his protagonists define their personalities, their hyperawareness of caste, and the way they address their social inferiors all suggest American Psycho (as does the violence that surrounds them). Buñuel, of course, not only is funnier than Bret Easton Ellis but also has a more developed social critique. A bishop insinuates himself into the group as their self-appointed servant; the army drops by for dinner; the three men are cocaine smugglers.

Buñuel populated The Exterminating Angel, an early variant on this story, with actors drawn from Mexican telenovelas, and it's amusing to reimagine Discreet Charm remade with the cast of Friends. (Though insulting, the movie was a crowd pleaser.) This is the closest Buñuel ever came to situation comedy. Put another way, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is the statement to which the final episode of Seinfeld aspired.

"No, I wanna be Hamlet": Hawke and Schreiber face off.
photo: Larry Riley
"No, I wanna be Hamlet": Hawke and Schreiber face off.


Written and directed by Michael Almereyda
From the play by William Shakespeare
A Miramax release
Opens May 12

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Directed by Luis Buuel
Written by Buuel and Jean-Claude Carrire
A Rialto rerelease
Lincoln Plaza
Opens May 12

Japanese Outlaw Masters
Screening Room
May 12 through 18

More counterculture archaeology: The Screening Room is this week featuring four examples of a uniquely Japanese mode, New Left softcore porn. Operating on a more subterranean level than Nagisa Oshima or even Seijun Suzuki, Koji Wakamatsu gave the various rapes, orgies, and routine or sadistic couplings of the so-called pink film a Reichian spin or placed them in the context of radical student movements. Attacking sexual alienation, Wakamatsu's Go, Go Second Time Virgin (1969) is a bloody, if static, Bonnie and Clyde played out on a Tokyo rooftop by two blank adolescents; his more expansive and parodic Ecstasy of Angels (1970) similarly analyzes the role of sexual repression in tracing the disintegration of a revolutionary cell.

The series also includes Yasuharu Hasebe's ultramod Black Tight Killers (1966), featuring a kicky group of go-go ninjas, and offers as its centerpiece Shunya Ito's Female Convict "Scorpion"—Jailhouse 41 (1972). Were it not filled with all manner of supernatural trappings and Noh theater conventions, this solemnly absurd prison-break girl-gang film might be a cousin to Russ Meyer's Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! The men are uniformly craven swine, and although I'd hesitate to call this a feminist tract, gender revenge is certainly crucial. Killing the bad guy just once isn't enough—when he's dead, the fierce, implacable heroine is finally free to laugh, her merriment reflected back at the audience in the iris of his now detached glass eye.

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