Lincoln Center celebrates 40th anniverary of ‘Discreet Charm’

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Time flies even when you’re not having fun.

It seems impossible that 40 years have passed since Luis Bunuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” opened but it’s true, and starting today the Film Society of Lincoln Center is celebrating the anniversary with a new 35mm print of the movie that has been booked for a seven-day run.

The booking is tied in with the non-profit Manhattan institution’s forthcoming “Spanish Cinema Now” series which will include a retrospective of Bunuel masterpieces.

“Discreet Charm” might not be the Spanish director’s greatest film — “Viridiana” probably holds down that spot — but it is perhaps the most sheerly enjoyable of all the European classics that were released during the Golden Age of the 1960s and 1970s.

A few years after it won the Oscar for best foreign language picture, I booked it at the arthouse I ran on the Delaware coast and forced all of my friends to see it (fortunately, they were all glad I did).

Bunuel was prized by moviegoers for his vicious satire, but by the time “Discreet Charm” came out the director was in his 70s and had mellowed a bit. The movie is anti-clerical and anti-Capitalist in a gentle manner that is more charming than abrasive.

At a time of life when his peers Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin had more or less burned out, Bunuel scored the biggest commercial and critical success of his career, capped by an Oscar (amusingly, the director had said many years earlier, “Nothing would disgust me more, morally, than receiving an Oscar).

“Discreet Charm” follows a group of well-heeled French friends whose dinner plans keep getting derailed.

Bunuel mixes dreams, romantic fantasies and black comedy in a delicious entertainment. The cast includes two of the most elegant French actresses of the period — Delphine Seyrig (of “Last Year at Marienbad”) and Claude Chabrol’s muse Stephane Audran — along with Bunuel regular Fernando Rey.

If you’ve never seen this thoughtful and delightful classic, try to get to Lincoln Center over the next week for a rare theatrical booking.

For more information, visit www.filmlinc.com

Joe Meyers

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