When it comes to highlighting the peculiarities of the British bourgeois, Grayson Perry, the Turner Prize-winning artist, has come up trumps with his Vanity of Small Differences exhibition currently on show in London. Inspired by Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, these six tapestries are intricately detailed and littered with objects that define the lifestyle of his ‘characters’, but they require close inspection to get all the nuances.
The late film director Luis Buñuel was also a critic of bourgeois morale – particularly about his native Spain and his adopted country of France – and this comes across in films like 1962’s The Exterminating Angel (one of my all time favourites) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which was made towards the end of Buñuel’s career, in 1972, and which is now getting a 40th anniversary release.
Forming a sort of bookend to Buñuel’s surrealist cinema (which began in 1929 with the legendary Un Chien Andalou and, in the following year, the scandalous L’Age d’Or), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a witty satire based on dreams within dreams. The story – for what its worth as Buñuel throws away traditional narrative structures – follows a group of six upper class friends in Paris’s well-to-do 16th Arrondissement as they repeatedly try to have dinner together, but their plans are constantly interrupted by increasingly surreal events (including soldiers on exercises, a tea house that has no tea or coffee, and a wake being held in a restaurant).
Written by Buñuel’s long-time collaborator, Jean-Claude Carrière, the film scored an Oscar nomination for Carrière (whose work is being honored at the BFI Southbank in London throughout July) and won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The Discreet Charm is unashamedly puzzling, but if looked at carefully (like Perry’s illuminating tapestries), it soon offers up some hilariously sly stabs at snobbery, prejudice and hypocrisy amongst France’s own nouveau riche.
• The BFI’s season celebrating the career of Jean-Claude Carrière is on throughout July. Click here for more information.
• Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences is showing at the Victoria Miro Gallery until 11 August.