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Classic Films: "Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie"

January 23rd, 2003

The fun of Luis Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is that it pokes and prods and tears apart the manners of the rich social class. Much like his The Exterminating Angel, where a group of friends gather for a dinner party and find themselves unable to leave the host's house, Bunuel shakes things up by making it so the bourgeois can't even get to the food at the table. Every time they arrive at a restaurant or gather at a friend's lovely home, they're interrupted by sex, death, a possible raid, or a marijuana-smoking cavalry who perform their maneuvers outside.

The upper middle class depicted in Discreet Charm showcase all of the stiff upper lip that comes with the atmosphere. Bunuel's joke is that these characters are constantly interrupted before dinner by the underlying ugliness of the bourgeoisie, mainly drugs, adultery, and boredom. Dinner is said to be one of the most important aspects of the rich, a time when they can do something constructive (eat) and talk about it.

Within Bunuel's satiric tour de force are a cocaine-supplying ambassador (Fernando Rey) who's paranoid that a terrorist group from Miranda is after him; his friend (Paul Frankeur) and the wife (Delphine Seyrig) the ambassador is having an affair with; a couple (Stephane Audran and Jean-Pierre Cassel) who frequently arrange for dinner plans at their lovely home but run off into the woods instead to have noisy sex. There's also the local priest (Julien Bertheau) whose fetish is gardening even though his parents were poisoned by a gardener.

Bunuel was 72 when he made Discreet Charm, in 1972. The film, which won the Best Foreign Language prize at the Oscars and was awarded Best Film with the National Society of Film Critics, followed and proceeded two other Bunuel masterworks, Belle de Jour and That Obscure Object of Desire. Belle de Jour followed Catherine Deneuve as a Parisian housewife-turned- prostitute and Obscure Object is famous for having two separate actress play the same role. With Discreet Charm, Bunuel delivered three stirring films of originality and declaration, though Discreet Charm is my favorite out of the bunch.

Bunuel, who died in 1983, is also famous for Un Chien Andalou, the 1929 film he collaborated on with Salvador Dali that is considered to be the best short film of all time. As with that groundbreaking movie, Discreet Charm stands above as a form of comedic self-expression, a film that knows what it's about and doesn't apologize, as with most comedies. The joke is that the whole film admits to being one.

Matthew Dalton

January 26, 2003

This is part of a weekly series of reviews of classic films.

Source: Get info on this film at the IMDb