Written by: Luis Buñuel & Jean-Claude Carrière
Starring: Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Stéphane Audran, Bulle Ogier
Reaching a specific socioeconomic level in society changes the rules and standards for conversations and what should never be spoken about. It occurs in a nearly-unspoken manner but the rules remain present. Those outside the specific level may look upon these circumstances with disgust and cringe, which Luis Buñuel manages to successfully evoke in the satirical and thought-provoking The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.
A group of bourgeois friends makes their way to a dinner party hosted by Alice Sénéchal (Stéphane Audran) and her husband Henri (Jean-Pierre Cassel). Upon their arrival they find Alice believing the gathering was taking place the next day, thus being unprepared for their arrival. This confusion leads to them going out to eat and having a peculiar set of events occur where they begin to divulge information and expose their true nature.
While friendly on the outside, the underlying resentment the characters in this film have for each other comes as such a delight and helps drive home the message of the story. Formalities and obligations keep holding such a burden in life, where saying no to social gatherings becomes impossible to do. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie opens with an extremely awkward situation of a host mixing up the days of when she had guests coming over for dinner. This leaves her with a room full of guests and nothing to offer them. Whoever had the right date became immaterial, but this situation creates a nightmare scenario for anyone who considers themselves a planner. Panic-inducing material to start and it only continues, as these fake pleasantries and conversations continue all through the film.
Tonally, the film works as a satire of this social class of people and how they cannot truly say what they want because of these unspoken rules, but a lingering feeling of dread flows as well. These characters never reach a level of familiarity one would expect because they each try to keep a respectable distance emotionally, but not always the case physically. Hypocrisy becomes the currency in discerning which of these characters will prove to be the opposite of what they preach to others, as the narrative will ensure to call them on it.
As more ridiculous things begin to occur, the film carries almost a dream-like mood over it, because everything happening could not possibly be real. Having certain confessions the characters make and assumptions they ascertain assert these people cannot be serious in their actions and words. The unsettling behavior and the uncovering of it become the entire point of the story, especially when observing the filmmaker behind it all.
Luis Buñuel loves himself a striking satire about the upper-class. He made a career out of it to a successful degree where he manages to take a piercing look at social classes and incessantly mocks the needless formalities and unwritten rules. His ruthless perspectives manage to always have a comedic lens because it allows the audience to witness the strangeness and then laugh at it. In The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, he takes an ambassador to a small nation, a bishop, and some rich couples to expose their inconsistent behavior towards people depending on where they sit on the social ladder. The scene outlining this at its height occurs when a bishop arrives at the Sénéchal household wearing leisure clothing that would not necessarily indicate his vocation. Upon his arrival, he immediately gets thrown out but then returns in his typical garb and gets welcomed in with open arms. A simple passage of events but one highlighting the hypocritical lens of these individuals and the lack of substance ruling all of their baseless assertions about others. This film contains so many of these splintering moments of hypocrisy and disgust because they are not good people, and Buñuel proves to be in fine form once again.
As biting as anyone could expect from a Luis Buñuel film, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie tells such an engaging and measured story. It may not stick the landing as well as it could narratively, but thematically it shows its strength in trying to burst the bubble of these hypocritical people. For a group of friends or acquaintances, you would think more trust and genuine interest would occur between them, but it all becomes a game to ensure they do the actions necessary to remain friendly with others and maintain their status in this social class.