The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie) is a 1972 surrealist film directed by Luis Buñuel and written by Jean-Claude Carrière in collaboration with the director. The film was made in France and is mainly in French, with some dialogue in Spanish.

The narrative concerns a group of upper middle class people attempting—despite continual interruptions—to dine together. The film received the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Contents

Overview

The film consists of several thematically linked scenes: five gatherings of a group of bourgeois friends, and the four dreams of different characters. The beginning of the film focuses on the gatherings, while the latter part focuses on the dreams, but both types of scenes are intertwined. There are also scenes involving other characters, such as two involving a Latin American female terrorist from the Republic of Miranda. The film's world is not logical: the bizarre events are accepted by the characters, even if they are impossible or contradictory.

Buñuel plays tricks on his characters, luring them toward fine dinners that they expect, and then repeatedly frustrating them in inventive ways. They bristle, and politely express their outrage, but they never stop trying; they relentlessly expect and pursue all that they desire, as though it were their natural right to have others serve and pamper them. He exposes their sense of entitlement, their hypocrisy, and their corruption. In the dream sequences, he explores their intense fears—not just of public humiliation, but of being caught by police and of being mowed down by guns. At least one character's dream sequence is later revealed to be nested, or embedded, in another character's dream sequence. As the dreams-within-dreams unfold, it appears that Buñuel is also playing tricks on his audience, as we try to make sense of the story.

Plot

The film begins with a bourgeois couple, the Thévenots (Frankeur and Seyrig), accompanying M. Thévenot's colleague Rafael Acosta (Rey) and Mme. Thévenot's sister Florence (Ogier), to the house of the Sénéchals, the hosts of a dinner party. Once they arrive, Alice Sénéchal (Audran) is surprised to see them and explains that she expected them the following evening and has no dinner prepared. The would-be guests then invite Mme Sénéchal to join them for dinner at a nearby inn. Finally arriving at the inn, the party finds it locked. They knock and are invited in, despite the waitress' seeming reluctance and an ominous mention of "new management". Inside, there are the sounds of wailing voices from an adjoining room but no diners (despite disconcertingly cheap prices). It is learned that the manager died a few hours earlier, and his former employees are holding vigil over his corpse, awaiting the coroner. The party hurriedly leaves.

In a short entr'acte, set in the Embassy of Miranda, the ambassador – Acosta – meets with Thévenot and Sénéchal to discuss the proceeds of a large cocaine deal. During the meeting, Acosta sees a young woman selling clockwork animal toys on the footpath outside the embassy. He shoots one of the toys, and the woman runs off. He explains that she is part of a terrorist group.

Two days later, the bourgeois friends attempt to have lunch at the Sénéchals, but Henri and his wife escape to the garden to have sex instead of joining them. One of the bourgeois friends takes this as a sign that perhaps the Sénéchals are aware the police are coming, and (fearing the discovery of the men's involvement in cocaine trafficking) left to avoid arrest. The party leaves again in panic.

When the Sénéchals return from their garden, their friends are gone, but they meet a bishop who had arrived shortly afterward. He, wearing their gardener's clothing, greets them, and they angrily throw him out. When he returns wearing his bishop's robes, they embrace him with deference, exposing their prejudice, snobbery, and hypocrisy. The bishop asks to work for them as their gardener. He explains to them about his childhood—about how his parents were murdered by arsenic poisoning, and the culprit was never apprehended. Later on in the film, he goes to bless a dying man, but when it turns out that man had killed the bishop's parents, the bishop first blesses him, then fires a shotgun, killing the man—thus closing the circle of hypocrisy.

The women then visit a tea house, which turns out to have run out of all beverages – tea, coffee, milk, and herbal tea – although it finally turns out they do have water. While they are waiting, a soldier tells them about his childhood and how, after the death of his mother, his education was taken over by his cold-hearted father. The soldier's mother (as a ghost) informs him that the man is not his real father, but in fact killed the soldier's father during a duel over his mother. Following his ghost mother's request, the soldier poisons and kills the culprit.

Various other aborted meals ensue, with interruptions including the arrival of a group of French army officers who join the dinner, or the revelation that a French colonel's dining room is in fact a stage set in a theatrical performance, during a dream sequence. Ghosts make frequent appearances in what seemed to be disconcerting dream sequences.

A recurring scene throughout the film, wherein the six people are walking silently and purposefully on a long, isolated country road toward a mysterious destination, is also in the final sequence.

Cast

Reception

The film was a box office hit in both Europe and the US, and critically praised. Robert Benayoun said that it was "perhaps [Buñuel's] most direct and most 'public' film". Vincent Canby wrote in his 1972 review of the film, “In addition to being extraordinarily funny and perfectly acted, The Discreet Charm moves with the breathtaking speed and self-assurance that only a man of Buñuel’s experience can achieve without resorting to awkward ellipsis.” Buñuel later said that he was disappointed with the analysis that most film critics made of the film. He also disliked the film's promotional poster, depicting a pair of lips with legs and a derby hat.

Buñuel and Silberman travelled to the US in late 1972 to promote the film. Buñuel did not attend his own press screening in Los Angeles and told a reporter at Newsweek that his favorite characters in the film were the cockroaches. While visiting LA, Buñuel, Carrière and Silberman were invited to a lunch party by Buñuel's old friend George Cukor, and other guests included Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, George Stevens, Rouben Mamoulian, John Ford, William Wyler, Robert Mulligan and Robert Wise (resulting in a famous photograph of the directors together, other than an ailing Ford). Fritz Lang was unable to attend, but Buñuel visited him the following day and received an autographed photo from Lang, one of his favorite directors.


See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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