Film Review: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Pleasantries and vacuity

One of the most respected directors to have ever lived, and recognised as one of the most influential creatives in cinema, Luis Buñuel has been covered before at The House of Flush when we praised one of his absolute career highlights in the provocative form of Belle de Jour. That was a 50th-anniversary release, and with an aptly surreal comedy timing (Buñuel was friends with Dali, and a leader in Avante-garde surrealism), I like to think that the 50th anniversary release of his 1972 feature ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’ via StudioCanal was timed to coincide with the Royal Jubilee.

It may not actually be on the shop shelves at the time of the Jubilee, but my 100% Irish Republican blood would have caused convulsions if I had joined in with the tens of individuals waving at a hologram in a priceless gold carriage meandering down a road, so I watched an equally surreal movie by an incredible Spanish director instead. I definitely made the right choice.

In keeping with the national events, it’s a strange beast. Somewhat devoid of a plot, or arc, it feels like a series of surreal events, happenings, or performances that don’t really make much sense but are designed to be captivating. The movie was like this too.

Inspired by a seemingly innocuous real-life event, a miscommunication of dinner arrangements is expanded into an entire movie that somehow foreshadows aspects of Christopher Nolan’s 2010 mind-bender ‘Inception’. It’s nothing like Inception of course, but there are numerous is it a dream, is it life situations at play, that leaves the viewer wondering what the bloody hell is going on. But as in most dreams, the best thing that can be done is relax, and just roll with it. Let the experience just drift over you, like a comforting duvet at night.

Despite coming from a comfortable background himself, Buñuel had very strong socialist beliefs, and regardless of the seemingly pleasant title of this movie, this dinner group are not in the slightest a gathering of individuals that anyone with actual empathy, honesty, or self-respect would want to spend any time with, other than from the safe distance of this movie of course.

As mentioned, a soiree has been arranged, but for the day after the self-entitled entourage arrived and are received by the maid. But what is one do, what does hostess etiquette decree? With the same sense of indifference to the initial dining, they decide to get back into the limousine and head to a local restaurant one of the guests had visited previously.

I’ve mentioned earlier there isn’t much, if any, of a plot, and what happens is a series of somewhat random events and experiences. I’ll not run through them as… well, they don’t really make sense (that’s the point), and they’re so delightfully bizarre, it would be like telling all the punch lines. Where there is continuity and clarity though is in the dinner guests, and how they react to their surroundings. Led by the instantly recognisable Fernando Rey (playing Don Rafael Acosta, an ambassador from the fictional South American nation of Miranda), this somewhat awful, hollow, entitled, contemptuous, judgemental, belittling and basically a bunch of tossers who use social pleasantries to mask pestilence, whilst still using pleasantries like weapons. SO much is said in the deportment of an individual, even more than the words, clearly holding wealth, though of no real discernible value as people.

Like Fernando, all the cast are superb, even if their characters are deplorable. They seem stuck in purgatory, drifting (actually literally walking) from one meaningless event to another, and regardless of the ‘real’ experiences offered by individuals they meet, they learn nothing, don’t evolve, and if anything regress further. Morals are for others, rules are for others, they’ll have what they want, when they want (was Buñuel foretelling Boris Johnson too?), sacrifices are for others to make, servitude too.  

Thankfully it’s not all plain sailing/walking, otherwise, this would make for an ordeal of a movie. There is a great deal of value on offer here, though it feels like we’re looking through the gilded bars of a zoo, into where the misguided animals of the pompous variety live. They act like they’re in palaces, we can obviously see they’re cages, yet thankfully there is zero sympathy for them either.

It’s a strange movie experience, and it’s all the better for it. Thankfully there are numerous extras including a couple of pretty in-depth analysis, that bring welcome subsequent clarity, while at the same time allowing the actual surreal intentions of the movie to work wonderfully. One of the key joys of the movie is the seemingly listless randomness of it all. It takes serious focus, ability and knowledge to be able to pull off such surrealness, and Buñuel does it once more with aplomb or a pipe, but ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’….

7/10 ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’ is available now on 4k UHD for the first time and Blu-ray, dvd & digital. You can also win a copy on Blu-Ray HERE.