The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
July 9, 2024 1:56 PM - Subscribe

A surreal, virtually plotless series of dreams centered around six middle-class people and their consistently interrupted attempts to have a meal together.

The ambassador of the Latin American republic of Miranda (Fernando Rey), M. Thevenot (Paul Frankeur), his wife Simone (Delphine Seyrig) and her sister Florence (Bulle Ogier) arrive for a dinner party at the house of Alice Sénéchal (Stéphane Audran) and her husband Henri (Jean-Pierre Cassel), only to learn that they were mistaken about the date. In director Luis Buñuel's surreal fantasy, the six bourgeois friends repeatedly gather for a dinner that never quite arrives.

Pauline Kael: 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 startingly 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 becomes buoyant jokes. (Might Swift without his disease have ended up like this?) The 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.

Neely Swanson: More attempted dinners follow with varying disastrous results. Soon the real world collides with dream sequences that mesh again with reality leaving the viewer breathless trying to discern fact from fiction, or at least according to what Bunuel wants us to believe. And after each phantasmagorical sequence, our intrepid band of players starts off walking in a nameless direction.

Absurdity is piled onto absurdity and reality and surreality blend until it is impossible to tell which is which. Bunuel takes an obvious pleasure in returning to his surreal roots, compounded by his ability to infuse the film with political statements about excess, human rights abuses, and basic criminality, adding immeasurably to the enjoyment his audience experiences.

Judith Crist: Never before has this always fascinating artist been quite so tantalizing, so tongue-in-cheek and so deft in his examination of the inanities and near-surrealism of a society has has long viewed with fatalistic eye. He has, he guilefully leads you to suspect, assumed to a tolerance of the fools that mortals be, but the suspicion lasts only for the duration of his intricate, intriguing film. In retropspect one sees his rages at the hypocrisies and brutalities that lie beneath the elegant coolness, the gentilities, the ripostes and the resiliencies that do indeed provide the bourgeoisie with that certain something he admits wryly to be their discreet charm.

posted by Carillon (1 comment total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I really enjoyed this. I found it generally quite funny, and while surreal, it never felt too far off the mark to really be distracting. One difference between this and The Exterminating Angel is that there the force was called out directly. Here they almost never get to sit and eat, but it's unremarked upon. I appreciated that more subtle approach. You know as the viewer that they aren't consummating this celebratory meal, but they don't see it. The scene with the army was so great, as was the increasing questions to Rey's character about his republic of Miranda. It almost plays as if even in story this is a fictional country.
posted by Carillon at 1:59 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]

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