Directed by Luis Bunuel with a script co-written with Jean-Claude Carriere, Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) is the story about a group of upper class friends trying to have a dinner as they’re interrupted by surreal events. During these events, personalities begin to unfold during the course of the day. Starring Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Stephane Audran, Bulle Ogier, Jean-Pierre Cassel, and Michel Piccoli. Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie is a whimsical yet mysterious film from Luis Bunuel.
A dinner party at the home of the Senechals as a foreign ambassador named Rafael Acosta (Fernando Rey) arrives with his friend Francois Thevenot (Paul Frankeur), Thevenot’s wife Simone (Delphine Seyrig), and her sister Florence (Bulle Ogier). Only Alice Senechal (Stephane Audran) is at the house unaware that there’s a party as her husband Henri (Jean-Pierre Cassel) isn’t home. They all decide to go to eat somewhere else unaware that the restaurant is closed only to discover why. Henri later apologizes for his absence as he invites Acosta and Thevenot for lunch only to be interested in having sex with his wife as the guests later leave as they meet Bishop Dufur (Julien Bertheau) who asks to be their gardener.
Attempts to eat and get together become troubling as they deal with interruptions from soldiers, associates, and other things. Even as they encounter men talking about weird dreams or memories and such. Rafael is dealing with political issues including a female terrorist (Maria Gabriella Maione) while Dufur becomes part of the party realizing something weird is happening.
The film is essentially about a group of bourgeoisie friends trying to have dinner together and have fun. Yet, they are continually interrupted by strange events or happenings that is going on around them. Even as the ladies try to have a simple tea party where there’s a lot of things going wrong. At the same time, there’s various people such as a lieutenant and a sergeant both recalling strange dreams or memories. At the same time, realities become blurred as the dinners seem more confusing and abstract. Luis Bunuel and co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere create a story that is a very loose story that relies on not just repetition but also humor.
Bunuel’s direction is very entrancing from the repeated images of the people walking on a road in the middle of the French countryside to the intimacy he captures in the dinner scenes. Yet, he also plays up the surrealistic tone of the film by creating scenes where dreams are shot in a world that is artificial with fake backdrops intentionally shown. At the same time, Bunuel allows the camera to be engaging with some close-ups and wide shots to capture the world of the Senechal house as well as the places they go into such as the home of a colonel (Claude Pieplu). In scenes where there’s some expositions about the situations, Bunuel chooses to have strange sounds to cover all of that dialogue as if he doesn’t want to hear what they’re saying. Overall, Bunuel crafts an imaginative yet exhilarating film that is very funny and intriguing in its surrealism.
Cinematographer Edmond Richard does a wonderful job with the film‘s colorful cinematography from the gorgeous, naturalistic look of the daytime exterior scenes to the posh look of the interior scenes at night. Editor Helene Plemiannikov does a great job with the editing in creating a film with a leisured pace and straightforward cuts while playing along with its surrealist tone by utilizing stylistic cuts.
Art director Pierre Guffoy does an amazing job with the art direction from the home of the Senechals to the places they encounter. Notably the surrealistic sets that appears in dreams that play up the film’s idea of reality. Costume designer Jacqueline Guyot does a fantastic job with the closes, notably the dresses for two of the women in the film along with gowns for Simone that was created by Jean Patou. Sound mixer Jacques Carrere does an excellent job with the sound work from the intimacy of the dinner scenes to the chaos for some of the conversation as it blares over the dialogue.
The cast is definitely phenomenal as it features appearances from such Bunuel regulars as Marguerite Muni as a peasant woman and Michel Piccoli as a minister. Other notable small roles include George Douking as a dying gardener, Maria Gabriella Maione as the terrorist, Milena Vukotic as the Senechal’s maid, Claude Peiplu as a colonel, and Francois Maistre as an inspector. Another notable small but brilliant role is Julien Bertheau as a bishop who wants to be a gardener while revealing a story about his parents’ death. Bulle Ogier is excellent as the youthful yet intelligent Florence, the younger sister of Alice Thevenot who often feels like she’s not equal with everyone else because of her youth. Paul Frankeur is really good as Francois Thevenot, a man who is trying to get everyone to have dinners while trying to convince people to go to his place to eat his caviar.
Jean-Pierre Cassel is great as Henri Senechal, a man who also tries to get the dinners going while he is often more interested by having sex with his wife than having a gathering with his friends. Stephane Audran is wonderful as Henri’s wife Alice who often not ready for the party or trying to organize things while she befriends the bishop. Delphine Seyrig is brilliant as Simone Thevenot, Francois’s wife who is often trying to get the ladies to have some their own time together while having flirtatious moments with Rafael. Finally, there’s Fernando Rey in a fantastic performance as the ambassador Rafael Acosta who has a lot in his mind while wanting to have dinner and eat as he often engages in conversations with his friends.
Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie is a superb yet captivating film from Luis Bunuel. Featuring a great ensemble cast led by Fernando Rey and Delphine Seyrig, it is a film that plays with the idea of reality along with Bunuel’s fascination with surrealism. Among the films that Bunuel has done in his long yet glorious career, this film is truly among as one of his best. In the end, Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie is a mesmerizing yet intoxicating film from the late, great Luis Bunuel.
Luis Bunuel Films: Un Chien Andalou - L'Age d'Or - Land Without Bread - (Gran Casino) - (The Great Madcap) - Los Olvidados - (Susana) - (La hija de engano) - (Mexican Bus Ride) - (A Woman Without Love) - (El Bruto) - (El) - (Illusion Travels by Streetcar) - (Wuthering Heights (1954)) - Robinson Crusoe (1954) - (The Criminal Live of Archibaldo de la Cruz) - (El rio y la muerte) - (Cela S'apelle l'Aurore) - (Death in the Garden) - (Nazarin) - (La Fievre a El Pasao) - (The Young One) - Viridiana - The Exterminating Angel - Diary of a Chambermaid - Simon of the Desert - Belle de Jour - (The Milky Way) - Tristana - (The Phantom of Liberty) - (That Obscure Object of Desire)
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