This may be my favorite movie! Here’s why …
Reviewed in the United States on 20 February 2022
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a simple story of 6 rich, effete snobs who have trouble getting together for dinner. At every try, their very rottenness gets in the way, dredging up disturbing, dream-like problems that reveal their shallowness, selfishness, and lack of compassion. Guests come on the wrong day, the restaurant owner is dead, they are attacked by the military, they suddenly find themselves on the stage, they are confronted by their dead relatives, and other unexpected problems reveal the real people beneath the thin varnish of civilization.
I’ll only review this film to save space, but the other 2 disks of this Criterion Collection are also great.
As you watch this film, ask yourself, why are the 6 friends walking down the middle of the road?
My answer is at the end of the review.
WHAT IS SURREALISM?
Surrealist art uses surprise, shock, illogic, juxtaposition of opposites, and humor to jar the participant from a normal mindset, releasing the internal, unconscious experience.
It is said that our usual intellectualized experience of the world is heavily contaminated by our past, our cultural expectations, and an artificial sense of how things “should” be. However, the pure unconscious mind provides a natural, uncontaminated viewpoint that shakes us out of our usual intellectualism.
I think surrealist works initially look reasonable and familiar but reveal themselves to be unreasonable and strange. Like Salvador Dali’s painting of an elephant with a giraffe’s neck, each part makes sense, but we are unable to make sense of the whole. Like Zen, by showing the workings of thought, surrealism stops the progression of thought. Many examples of surrealism are intentionally funny, to lampoon the seriousness with which artists take their work.
That’s my opinion, anyway — after seeing this film, see what You think.
______________ WHO’S WHO:
LUIS BUÑUEL PORTOLÉS is a surrealist filmmaker who directed, co-wrote, and provided the story of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Buñuel thinks movies are a form of hypnotism that make viewers receptive to their unconscious mind. He was critical of organized religion, the unity of church and state, and governmental coverup of poverty, misery, and crime.
FERNANDO REY plays Don Rafael Acosta, the rich and egotistic diplomat of an impoverished and oppressed country. One of the world’s great actors, Rey has an easy, expressive style that was effective in Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971; the real French Connection is addressed in this film). Rey also starred in Lina Wertmüller’s Seven Beauties (1975); Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight (1966), The Immortal Story (1968), and several unfinished films; as well as Buñuel’s Viridiana (1961), Tristana (1970), and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). Rey has an amazing 246 acting credits.
THE SIX FRIENDS: The trio of husband Francois Thévenot (Paul Frankeur), wife Simone Thévenot (Delphine Seyrig), and Simone’s sister Florence (Bulle Ogier) travel together in social circles. Florence acts like a child who chain-smokes and tries to scarper martinis which invariably make her vomit. Henri Sénéchal (Jean-Pierre Cassel) and Alice Sénéchal (Stéphane Audran) are a young married couple in lust and love, who join the Thévenots and Ambassador Acosta as the 6 Bourgeois Friends.
Wealthy and socially esteemed, the 6 Bourgeois Friends are involved in all sorts of sordid affairs — worst of all, they are all shallow and empty people.
JULIEN BERTHEAU is Monsignor Dufor, the bishop who wants an honest job among high quality people, so he takes a position as the Sénéchal’s gardener. Compare Ludwig Wittgenstein.
DON’T MISS THESE SCENES
1) Rafael’s gluttony gets him shot for a slice of roast lamb.
2) Monsignor Dufor forgives the dying man for poisoning his mother and father.
3) The tea room that searches for tea.
4) When the women leave the dinner table, Rafael objects, “You are not being discreet!”
HOW DOES THIS FILM WORK?
The antics of the 6 esteemed friends look reasonable in each scene, but viewed together, the whole is disturbing. Our usual sensibilities are turned on their heads and we must face the fact that the clarity and sense that we make of our world is mostly a delusion.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie was shot in 35 mm Eastmancolor on Panavision cameras and lenses at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. It is 102 minutes in length.
WES’ FAMILY RATING: “OK FOR TEENS AND UP!
You may not want small kids to see the Sénéchal’s abortive attempts at lovemaking, but teens and adults are more likely to be amused and puzzled than horrified or upset at the film.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie won the Oscar and Golden Globe Awards in 1973 for Best Foreign Language Film.
This film is hilarious and deadly serious at the same time. Play along and you’ll see how a film that doesn’t make sense, really makes sense. Seriously, though, I love this film and the Criterion Collection Blu-ray is the best version I’ve ever seen (and heard). Enjoy.
THE ANSWER (finally):
Did you figure out why, throughout the film, we see the 6 Bourgeois Friends walking down the middle of the road? I think it’s because Simone’s sister Florence drank too much and was sick in the car. That’s my answer — what’s yours?
Feel free to click my name to find more movie ideas and to read other reviews.
I hope this review has been really helpful.
One person found this helpful