Luis Buñuel’s Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie is a title worthy of this beautiful satire. Its members of the French upper middle-class, along with a South American ambassador, keep having their meals interrupted and aborted. It’s a crisis of culturally elevated coitus interruptus.
First, a group arrives for dinner, only to have their hostess explain that it’s the wrong night. Inviting the hostess along, they next check in at a nearby eatery; but a solemn wake going on in the back room—the establishment’s manager died that afternoon—bankrupts their appetites. Another day it is lunch, but the host and hostess, who are having sex (eventually, outside in the bushes), are late in joining their guests, who by that time have left. Another day it’s lunch in a restaurant, and a stranger, a young army lieutenant, invites himself to the group’s table to relate his tragic childhood, which we see as one of the film’s marvelous dream episodes. And so the film goes, giving us a lot to chew on, but very little to its characters, for which a dream cast has been assembled (Stéphane Audran, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Delphine Seyrig, Bulle Ogier, Fernando Rey—with Ogier, in particular, screamingly funny as a girl who can’t hold her liquor).
Of course, since it’s Buñuel, the comedy is serious. There is a gripping vignette showing the torture of a young radical. The theme of the film is the complacency by which the middle class abets fascism, and at one point one soul awakens from another’s dream, suggesting a lack of individuality among this group. Periodic inserts of the group walking down a vacant road, seemingly sure of where they are headed but going nowhere, suggest a dangerous absence of self-criticism and self-awareness.
Tags: Luis Buñuel