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Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The (1972)
Genre: Fantasy Comedy Drama (France, Italy, Spain)
Starring: Fernando Rey (Viridiana • The French Connection), Delphine Seyrig (Last Year at Marienbad • Stolen Kisses)
Overview: They're rich, they're hungry. This is the tale of a group of friends who try to sit down to enjoy a meal together, but are somehow stopped at every turn.
When one is familiar with something, it's hard to break out of the preconceptions they've left behind. For that reason, I'm reluctant to enjoy anything directed by Luis Buñuel. I was mildly amused by Un chien andalou, and absolutely detested L'âge d'or. Our famous guide in this vast universe of film, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, contains no less than a full nine films directed by Buñuel in its pages. At first I found this to be quite the over-representation - Buñuel has the same amount of 1001 entries as Kubrick, as Spielberg and Scorsese - but after seeing The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, I now have some hope that the rest of his works won't be offensive for offense's sake.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie shows us, in a series of evenings, how a group of friends just can't manage to sit down and have a meal together. We begin with a simple scheduling mistake turned dining out. At the bistro they go to, the corpse in the next room turns the stomachs of the ladies. Another dinner is ruined by a perfect storm of sex and paranoia: the hot and heavy hosts are coitus interruptussed by their expected dinner guests. When the wife suggest that they make it a quickie, the husband says, "you know you're too loud" and the two chose to escape the house by climbing outside through the window to finish what they started. When one of the guests, a South American cocaine-smuggling ambassador, catches wind that they snuck out to the garden, he assumes the worst, gathers his friends and flees the imminent police raid. As the film progresses, the circumstances around how their meals are ruined become increasingly preposterous and farcical, from restaurants out of stock of everything to duels in the living room, not to mention a constant stream of dream sequences. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is far more a study on absurd writing than driven by any plot. In a nutshell, it's one big comedic surreal farce.
For me, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie was a comedy far more entertaining than expected, but for as much as I had an overall lukewarm reaction to it, there are many important digs at the upper crust to praise. The hypocrisy of our characters is a pleasant constant, from a visiting bishop dressed as a gardener, called a liar and thrown out on his ear, to our characters mocking their servants as example of their own proper breeding. As all great comedies have deeper elements of social commentary and drama, so too does The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.
Performance: 8 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 7
Overall Rating: 74% (Charming, If Indiscreet)
Granted the last film of Buñuel's I've watched was made 40 years before this one, and knowing nothing of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, I expected only a mild amount of nonsense and was pleased at what I received. When the film turned to deep and wild dream sequences with more surreal elements, I can't say I enjoyed these moments as much as those scenes in the beginning. This social commentary, those hypocritical examples of high-class 'discreet charm' in the context of a dream sequence is not nearly as effective as when rooted in the far more 'real'.