The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie: More and Less
The film begins at night. Under the credits, there are views from a car in motion, before four people arrive at a stately home in the woods. There is a married couple, François (Paul Frankeur) and Simone (Delphine Seyrig) Thévenot. Simone’s sister, the flighty Florence (Bulle Ogier), has joined them for the evening, as has François’s colleague Rafael (Fernando Rey). Their hosts are another couple, the Sénéchals, Alice (Stéphane Audran) and Henri (Jean-Pierre Cassel). All seemingly ordinary and banal; all very middle-class. But Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) is a movie in which not even the simplest goal—in this case, six people’s sitting down together for a meal—can reach its fulfillment.
Something always interferes. Complications of every kind—crossed wires as to the date of the appointment, the glimpsing of a corpse in the back room of a restaurant, a soldier spontaneously telling an intense tale of his childhood at teatime—keep piling up, and the characters must move on, still in search of their elusive nourishment. The more this simple plot device repeats, the more it renders the proceedings patently absurd and dreamlike.
Meanwhile, as the polite facade of normality slowly cracks apart, other human desires, beyond the need for food, gradually assert themselves, taking over the narrative: acts of impulsive sex and equally impulsive murder, for instance. The film becomes increasingly outrageous, scandalous, even blasphemous, while, on its surface, remaining perfectly cool and in control. That combination was a Buñuel specialty, achieved with a renewed cheek and assurance here.