The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Luis Buñuel, France, 1972, 105 minutes

This is another of Buñuel's witty satires of the bourgeoisie, strongly reminiscent of Viridiana, less caustic but stylistically more refined. It is a very intelligently structured film, almost flawless in terms of directorial technique but at the same time, virtually flawless in its critique.

There is not very much which can be said about the plot. The whole film concentrates around a group of people which includes characteristic types of the bourgeoisie - for example, a bishop, a former military officer, an ambassador - who gather for a meal but they can never eat it because they are interrupted by all sorts of unexpected events.

Buñuel fuses ingeniously dream and reality and carries the notion of illusion to extremes. He combines the minute mannerisms and savoir vivre of the bourgeois type with the bourgeoisie's gross indifference towards substantial issues and the result is often hilarious, often astonishing in its rang of perception. Politics, sex, religion, ideology are all placed under close scrutiny by Buñuel's sensitive eye. Laden with some well placed symbolism - the moment of cunning seduction of the revolutionary by the bourgeois - and with some unique injections of Surrealism, The Discrete Charm..., is ultimately a film of brilliant twists and turns, a humorous treatise on sociability which finds its best expression in the bourgeoisie. Buñuel's eclectic cast is uniformly sensational and is led by Fernando Rey, Delphine Seyrig and Stephane Audran.

The Discreet Charm... was awarded the Oscar for be foreign-language film in 1972, an indication perhaps of the bourgeoisie's own attempt to legitimise and incorporate within its sphere self-criticism. Buñuel though gives his answer with a particular sequence which recurs in the film, namely with the bourgeois group on the road to nowhere.

Review by Spiros Gangas
Taken from EUFS Programme 1993-94