The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)


There is nothing quite like a good social satire that presents a scathing and biting view of an entire group of people. Luis Buñuel was a filmmaker who never quite held back on anything when it came to making his films, and in one of his last films (he would go on to make only two more films after this), Buñuel excellently criticized the upper-class in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie), showing how those with wealth, influence and power are indeed people who are very corrupted and quite frankly, utterly moronic. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie has entered into film canon as one of the most brutally scathing looks at the upper-class, and it is clear as to why it is seen as one of the greatest dark comedies ever made, and perhaps one of the best films in cinema history.

Six individuals – Rafael Acosta (Fernando Rey), the ambassador to the fictional nation of Miranda, his colleague Francois Thévenot (Paul Frankeur) and his wife, Simone (Delphine Seyrig) and Thévenot’s sister, Florence (Bulle Ogier) are on their way to a dinner party at the house of another of Rafael’s colleagues, Henri Sénéchal (Jean-Pierre Cassel) and his wife, Alice (Stéphane Audran) – the plans have been in place for quite a while, and everyone is looking forward to dining together – until they realize that they got the date confused, and that the dinner party is only the following night. What follows is a series of unfortunate happenings, where the sextet continuously try and fail to dine together, and the reasons become increasingly absurd and ridiculous as the film progresses, and while the film is filled with political and social messages, the main theme of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is that these characters simply just can’t eat together, and makes it one of the most unconventional comedy of errors, and one of the most brilliantly satirical films ever made.

Luis Buñuel is one of the greatest directors to ever live – and there is not a shadow of a doubt in any cinephile that the man is one of the biggest influences on contemporary cinema. Buñuel’s cinematic career starts in the silent era and extends all the way to the late 1970s, and even his last film, That Obscure Object of Desire (Cet obscur objet du désir/Ese oscuro objeto del deseo) was as mind-bending and innovative as his very first film, the iconic An Andalusian Dog (Un Chien Andalou). Each of his films are fantastic, but I truly adored The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, because it shows Buñuel at his very best, making something that is brimming with meaning and intelligence, while being utterly brilliant in its outlook on a subject that was a major factor throughout history, and remains scarily relevant in the current world.

I loved The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie because it finds Buñuel playing with form and narrative to create something extraordinary – he layers so many different ways of telling the story here, using macabre comedy, romance and slapstick, in addition to some supernatural elements throughout that create a very uneasy film, which is exactly what a dark comedy should be. So many lesser dark comedies think they are fitting into the genre by simply talking about taboo issues or controversial subject matter – when in reality, what makes a great dark comedy good is the way in which it creates hesitance and uneasiness within its audience. Cinema is a visceral experience, and the repulsion that comes with a film like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is something that may put some people off, but is far from being excessive (and compared to many inferior films of this nature, it may be macabre, but it is never grotesque). Buñuel crafted an impeccable and classy film with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and even though it is undeniably disturbing at some places, it is still utterly brilliant.

I am a major fan of David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky, the two men who are popularly seen as being at the forefront of surrealist cinema. While I adore them unconditionally, it is important to realize that without Luis Buñuel, neither of these men would have much of a career – Buñuel broke down barriers where non-narrative and experimental films could be seen as equals to mainstream productions. Without Buñuel, surrealism would be only restricted to the fine arts, as Buñuel truly fought hard to make surrealist cinema truly an accepted sub-genre of filmmaking. Surrealism is inherently something audiences don’t naturally respond to – ultimately, even the best surrealist films are repulsive, bizarre and incredibly alienating – and that is precisely why I love surrealism, because it shows a side of art that is hardly ever shown in other genres, and Buñuel (and his friend Salvador Dali) are responsible for so much of today’s most experimental and innovative creations, across all forms of art.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is far from being Buñuel’s most experimental films, and sometimes it feels like it is his most straightforward film at times (which of course it isn’t by any stretch of the imagination) – however, having said that, we should note that there is so much in here that it impossible for any other film – Buñuel creates a world where the craziest and most far-fetched events happen to these characters, and they simply react as if it was a simple inconvenience – a troop of soldiers deciding to have dinner with them, a drug bust, a revelation that they have been invited to a dinner party where they are actually in the middle of a play themselves – it is gloriously subtle, and Buñuel doesn’t go that far on the dial of surrealism to make this an all-out madcap experience, but the subtlety of the surrealism is exactly what makes this film so brilliant. He never goes too far, while still making it an eccentric and strange film, which is a testament to Buñuel’s talent as one of the greatest cinematic geniuses of all time.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is an absolutely phenomenal film – the cast is brilliant, and Buñuel pulls out all the stops to make it something truly special. It is not cold or alienating like other surrealist films, and it has a lot of warmth beneath its cutthroat theme. The idea of criticizing class division is not something that normally lends itself to a surrealist dark comedy, especially not one from Luis Buñuel, but it worked out perfectly, and this film’s status as a cult film and as one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time proves that it is something fantastic. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is an absolute gem, and I urge every film fan to seek this out, because while it ultimately might be very different to anything else you’d see, it is still a truly wonderful experience, and in the end, that is what cinema is about – being unique, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is one of the most unique films I’ve seen in a long time.


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