‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’


Luis Buñuel’s 1972 film boasts one of the best titles in movie history and a cast to match. Three divas of the post–nouvelle vague French cinema—Delphine Seyrig, Bulle Ogier, and Stéphane Audran—are supported by the suavest of Buñuel regulars, Fernando Rey, the comic Jean-Pierre Cassel, and the veteran secondario Paul Frankeur. They form a sextet, four of whom arrive a night early for dinner at the other two’s home. This faux pas sends the universe reeling. Subsequently thwarted by a combination of narrative digressions and outrageous plot devices, the six never manage to consummate their meal. Buñuel invites us to savor their endless frustration and feast on their irrational impulses. Blithely discontinuous, Discreet Charm has echoes of Buñuel’s early surrealist films, although its episodic, interlocking stories suggest the influence of The Saragossa Manuscript and Godard’s Weekend. In populating his movie with blatant bourgeois piggies and bedeviling them with third-world terrorists, Buñuel was—more than usual—responding to the moment. It’s mildly amazing that this movie won an Oscar—but that was back in the heyday of the New Hollywood. Typically, the filmmaker told a credulous Mexican journalist that his producers had bribed the Academy.

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