You're not alone in your confusion. ;-)
Before I begin this analysis I will quote from the indispenable Roger
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
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
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
dead body, then they are interrupted by military manuevers. It even
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?
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
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
film you become pretty certain that they'll never actually get to eat.
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
ostensibly a servant of his government, but is in reality a drug
up with terrorists.
Consider the priest who likes to slum in people's gardens. In
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
In this fashion each of the six principal characters is representative
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
care more about a stupid dinner party than violence on a global scale?
He uses device to highlight the bourgeoisie's hypocrisy, moral vacany,
plain cluelessness. Such are the "discreet charms" of the
"The joke in _The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie_ is the way
interrupts the meals with the secrets that lurk beneath the surface
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
he throws in a supporting character to make fun of the church--a
fetish is to dress up as a gardener and work as a servant in the
There are also a lot of stupid jokes, too. As I said, Bunuel is
and often, with you. He's a surrealist, which some interpret as
license to hold one's audience in contempt. This is especially true
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
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
-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
Bunuel's social viewpoint you will probably like this film on some
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
capture the searing wit of the original French, but I don't speak
cannot confirm this.
The Emperor is wearing clothes, just not too many. Let's say a
more appropriately, a silk smoking jacket. And that's not necessarily
thing if you happen to be a smoking jacket afficianado.
hope this helps,
"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie"
Various Reviews of "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie"