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Q: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Movies and Film
Asked by: apteryx-ga
List Price: $3.87
Posted: 24 Aug 2002 19:41 PDT
Expires: 23 Sep 2002 19:41 PDT
Question ID: 58233
Okay, as long as I am safely concealed by a pseudonym, I'll ask:  what
in the world is this film about?  I saw this Luis Bunuel comedy when
it was new, in the early 70's, and I figured I was just too young and
naive then to make much sense of it.

Here's how Netflix bills it:

In Luis Bunuel's deliciously satiric, Oscar-winning masterpiece, an
upper-class sextet sits down to dinner but never eats, their attempts
continually thwarted by a vaudevillian mixture of events both actual
and imagined. Perhaps his greatest film, Bunuel's absurdist view of
the upper class is a timeless satire about consumerism and class
privilege in a late capitalist world.

I rented this film and watched it again last night, and guess
what--thirty years' increase in maturity and experience have not cured
my inability to make something of this movie.  Sure, I got the part
about life's being constantly and unpredictably interrupted by death,
but what (I am asking) the heck?

So let's see an interpretation that not only tells me what it means
(or doesn't mean) but, in the best lit-class expository-theme fashion,
actually proves its points by reference to the particulars of the film
I just saw.  Or is this just a variant of the emperor's new
clothes--nobody actually wants to admit that there's nothing there?
Subject: Re: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Answered By: actualwolf-ga on 28 Aug 2002 11:15 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

 You're not alone in your confusion. ;-)

Before I begin this analysis I will quote from the indispenable Roger
Ebert as
a sort of caveat.

 From his review of the film at the Chicago Sun-Time (
) :

 "All movies toy with us, but the best ones have the nerve to admit
Most movies pretend their stories are real and that we must take them 
seriously. Comedies are allowed to break the rules. Most of the films
of Luis
Bunuel are comedies in one way or another, but he doesn't go for gags
and punch lines; his comedy is more like a dig in the ribs, sly and

As this quote implies, part of the films humor is at the expense of
viewer.  This is especially true if you happen to be a member of the
class that
it skewers.

As you know, the film centers around a party of guests who are
trying  to have dinner.  There plans are foiled again and again by
absurd occurences.  First they show up on the wrong night, then they
discover a
dead  body, then they are interrupted by military manuevers. It even
goes so
far as to have a curtain raise and expose an audience watching  the
eat.  What is going on here?  Why don't they just give up and go home?
they crazy? 

Important to "getting" the movie is the word discreet. (
 defines discreet as:

1.Marked by, exercising, or showing prudence and wise self-restraint
in speech  and behavior; circumspect.
2.Free from ostentation or pretension; modest. 

 -Note that "discreet" is quite different from "discrete" 
( )-

As you can tell the film's characters are anything but discreet.

Bunuel's characters have no sense of restraint or prudence, no
discretion. They
are so arrogant, have such a sense of a entitlement, that they will
let nothing stop their dinner.  Not corpses, not the military, not
fundamental shifts in the nature of reality.  Their dogged pursuit of
something as banal as a dinner
party in the face of the dangerous and absurd is used to highlioght
absurdity of their lifestyle. That's just the basics.  Not too far
into the
film you become pretty certain that they'll never actually get to eat.
 It is
from this setting that Bunuel gets to work, using specific characters
situations as digs at the specific institutions. 

Consider the character of Raphael, the ambassador to the Republic of
who is the closest the film has to a main character.  The man is a
diplomat and
ostensibly a servant of his government, but is in reality a drug
smuggler mixed
up with terrorists.

Consider the priest who likes to slum in people's gardens.  In
addition to
being as clueless as Marie Antionette, he shoots a man while granting
absolution!  I think there may be a point about the hypocrisy of the
church in
here somewhere.

In this fashion each of the six principal characters is representative
of some
shortcoming of the bouegeoisie as a whole. This is especially true for
female characters, both of whom politely smile vacantly in the face of
horror.  Some of the films events are almost literal metaphors for the
complacency of the upper middle class.  How else can you interpret
people who
care more about a stupid dinner party than violence on a global scale?

He uses device to highlight the bourgeoisie's hypocrisy, moral vacany,
and just
plain cluelessness.  Such are the "discreet charms" of the

Again, Ebert: 
 "The joke in _The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie_ is the way
interrupts the meals with the secrets that lurk beneath the  surface
of his
decaying European aristocracy: witlessness, adultery, drug dealing,
military coups, perversion and the paralysis of  boredom. His central
characters are politicians, the military and the rich, but in a
generous mood
he throws in a supporting character to make fun of the church--a
bishop whose
fetish is to dress up as a gardener and  work as a servant in the
gardens of
the wealthy."

There are also a lot of stupid jokes, too.  As I said, Bunuel is
having fun,
and often, with you.  He's a surrealist, which some interpret as
license to hold one's audience in contempt.  This is especially true
for Bunuel
in this film: who is going to see surrealist comedies about the
bourgeoisie but the bourgeoisie themselves?
It's not hard to also imagine Bunuel being aware of the
praise that people would heap upon his film and considering that also
a target
of his satire.

So, a basic rundown of the film's themes:

-The bourgeoisie are corrupt
-The bourgeosie are hypocrites
-They are stupid
-They are so concerned with pretense and propriety that they are
frozen in
their reactions
-They are incapable of rising above their own self interest
-And above all, they are too ignorant to appreciate any of this

I'm afraid that the film doesn't go much deeper than that.  If you
agree with
Bunuel's social viewpoint you will probably like this film on some
level.  It
seems that much of the accolades come for the skill with which Bunuel
his point.  I am told that the English subtitles in some versions
don't fully
capture the searing wit of the original French, but I don't speak
French and
cannot confirm this.

The Emperor is wearing clothes, just not too many.  Let's say a
bathrobe, or
more appropriately, a silk smoking jacket.  And that's not necessarily
a bad
thing if you happen to be a smoking jacket afficianado.

hope this helps,



 Search Strategy:

 "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie"


Various Reviews of  "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie"
apteryx-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Nicely done, Actual (may I call you Actual?), nicely done.  I feel
certain that you have extracted every bit of intelligence this film is
likely to offer me, complete with the requisite substantiation and
backup references.  By elaborating on the title itself (which I had
always suspected was a mistranslation precisely because I couldn't
make much of it), you establish a convincing authority.  Your
rendering of the main themes and your explication of the ways in which
the pointlessness and illogic are exactly the point and the logic of
it make an annoying but coherent kind of sense.  The smoking jacket is
an especially nice touch that inspires confidence in your
interpretation.  Thank you for all the trouble you went to for $3.87.

Subject: Re: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
From: pinkfreud-ga on 24 Aug 2002 19:54 PDT
I would like to research this question, but for the fact that I
really, truly hated this movie, which I viewed reluctantly after all
my intellectual friends had told me what a masterpiece it is. In my
opinion, not only does the emperor have no clothes, but the emperor
himself, upon closer inspection, turns out to be a hollow
department-store dummy made from synthetic pseudo-emperor material and
filled with hot air.
Subject: Re: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
From: ganswijk-ga on 25 Aug 2002 18:30 PDT
Please consider that Bunuel was a (some say *the*) surreal film maker.
Surrealism is according to 'the Penguin all English dictionary': the
school of art or literature that aims at producing irrational
fantasies or hallucinatory and dream-like effects. I haven't seen this
film recently myself, but if I remember correctly all kinds of weird
things happen during dinner. Another famous surreal artist was the
painter Maigret in Belgium who painted flying men with bowler hats and
umbrella's and who drew a pipe and wrote under it: "Ceci n'est pas un
pipe" ("this is not a pipe"). It isn't a pipe, it's a drawing of a
pipe. A current example of surreal art is the series Twin Peaks by
David Lynch. Most of his films are surreal. The series Northern
Exposure is also more or less surreal. Other examples are
comedy-series like Green Acres and (a bit less) Newsradio. What all
these art forms have in common, is that whatever is depicted seems to
be real, yet very unlikely dream-like things happen. Most of the
sketches in Monty Python's Flying Circus are also very surreal.

By the way, the later films of Louis Bunuel aren't as surreal as his
early work and that may be confusing. If possible try to see the 1930
movie "L'age d'or" that he made together with the surreal painter
Salvador Dali.
Subject: Re: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
From: ganswijk-ga on 25 Aug 2002 18:39 PDT
'Maigret' must of course be 'Rene Magritte'.

For more on Surrealism see for example:

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