At one point in Whit Stillman's 1990 film Metropolitan, which Criterion is releasing today on Blu-ray along with another Stillman film, The Last Days of Disco, Charlie Black (Taylor Nichols), one of a group of young rich white people drifting from party to party during the season when such people do such things, mentions his disappointment at finally seeing Luis Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. His objection boils down to the fact that, for one thing, he didn't assume the title held any irony, which he obviously should have, but mainly the problem, he says, is that it was simplistic and unfair and, further, the bourgeoisie has "a lot of charm." I'm pretty sure we're supposed to find Black's take silly, but at the same time Stillman's scarce and scattered filmography up to this point -- four films in twenty-one years -- seems to exist to, at least some degree, prove his point. I haven't seen Stillman's most recent film, last year's Damsels in Distress, but his previous three, which also includes 1994's Barcelona, are nothing if not charming, though this is a simplification. But they are charming. Funny, smart, gentle, sardonic (but not venomously so) they are about a world that is pretty much always mocked, if not vilified, in films from around the world. It's one Stillman knows better than most filmmakers who take it on, however, and his approach is refreshing to the point of actually being invigorating.
As is Stillman in general. Damsels in Distress, I'm told, is quite a different kettle of fish, stylistically speaking, from what Stillman has offered previously, though from what I understand about it the ending of The Last Days of Disco sort of hints at what's to come. Thirteen years later, yes, but you can't have everything.