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Film / The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

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Four dreams, three Oedipal adventures, and absolutely no dinner parties.

"I can't remember my lines."

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie) is a 1972 surrealist comedy film directed by Luis Buñuel.

Francois and Simone Thévenot (Paul Frankeur and Delphine Seyrig); Rafael Acosta, the minister from "Miranda" (Fernando Rey); and Simone's sister Florence, all arrive at the home of Henri and Alice Senechal (Jean-Pierre Cassel and Stéphane Audran) for dinner. Alice is surprised to see the others, as she was under the impression that the dinner party was for the following night. They go out to an inn, but find it empty of other diners. They leave when they're informed that the manager died and mourners are wailing for his body in the next room.

Things get even weirder and surreal from there, as the quest for dinner is repeatedly frustrated. There are dream sequences, and dreams within dreams. An officer in the army sits down with the women and absolutely out of nowhere tells them about how he murdered his stepfather when he was a boy. One dining room turns out to be a stage set for a play. Another dinner is interrupted by soldiers opening fire. And they never do get to eat.

Michel Piccoli appears as the Interior Minister. This film was one of the inspirations for Stephen Sondheim's final musical Here We Are.

If they list their own tropes, they must have their reasons.

  • The Alcoholic: Florence, who has a habit of getting so drunk that she vomits in public.
  • And Starring: Michel Piccoli gets an "and with the courteous participation of Michel Piccoli" credit.
  • Argentina Is Nazi Land: Apparently the fictional Latin American country of Miranda is a common destination for Nazis who fled the Reich. One dinner anecdote tells of a Nazi concentration camp commander who was arrested there. Rafael, the Mirandan ambassador, claims he was a perfectly polite guy.
  • Badass Preacher: A bishop goes to bless a dying man who he discovers was responsible for killing the bishop's parents. The bishop blesses him... and blows him away with a shotgun.
  • Banana Republic: The Republic of Miranda, a fictional country somewhere in Latin America. Its ambassador brushes aside any allegations of high crime, Nazi hideouts, and authoritarianism while smuggling cocaine into France.
  • Black Comedy: The humour of the film comes from situations related to death. For example, early in the film, there is a funny scene where the group walks into an empty restaurant. Soon they discover that the owner has just died and the coffin is in the next room. Near the end, after the guests are brutally gunned down, Rafael, who escaped being killed, cannot stop himself from sneaking food from the table he's hiding under, blowing his cover. The assassin shoots the table, looks under, and sees the guest eating the food as he helplessly looks up at him. He gets gunned down too.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Rafael is using his diplomatic immunity and exemption from border searches to smuggle cocaine into France. Francois brings a Briefcase Full of Money to the embassy as his payoff.
  • Catapult Nightmare: The last bizarre sequence, in which the whole group is machine-gunned to death, turns out to be Rafael's nightmare. He bolts up in bed and gasps.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Early in the film Rafael, Francois, and Henri are shown to be part of a cocaine-smuggling ring. Late in the film they're arrested.
    • When he gets introduced to the Sénéchals, the bishop tells them that his parents were murdered when he was a kid. In the end, he meets the murderer and kills him.
  • Contrived Coincidence: An old man calls the bishop to have the last rites before dying. He has a crime the confess: he killed two people many years ago. It turns out they were the parents of the bishop.
  • Daydream Surprise:
    • Twice in a row: the group goes to dinner at the colonel's house, only to find that they are in a stage play. This is eventually revealed to be a dream of Henri. Then they go to the colonel's for real, except it's not for real, as that scene is revealed to be a dream of Francois.
    • When the group is in prison, the mortally-wounded ghost of Brigadier Sanglant appears and free them, but it is revealed to be a dream of the police superintendent.
    • The group is dining at the Sénéchal. A group of terrorists arrives and kills everybody, except Rafael who is hiding beneath the table. It is revealed to be Rafael's dream.
  • Dinner and a Show: At one point, the "dinner" is revealed to be a stage play, which produces the page quote.
  • Dramatic Necklace Removal: Brigadier Sanglant grabs the pendant of a young suspect and rips it forcibly off of their neck.
  • Dream Sequence:
    • Four dream sequences are daydream surprises.
    • There is also the dream of the sergeant, where he meets a dead friend and his mother.
  • Dream Within a Dream: The bizarre scene where the group goes to dinner at the colonel's house, only to find that they are in a stage play, is eventually revealed to be a dream of Henri. Then they go to the colonel's for real, except it's not for real, as that scene is revealed to be a dream of Francois.
  • Electric Torture: With a piano, of all things. In a flashback a brutal police sergeant tortures a hippie by sticking him inside a grand piano which has been hooked up to electrical cables.
  • Ensemble Cast: There are six main characters (Rafael, François, Simone, Florence, Henri and Alice). Other characters are important in some scenes (the bishop, the lieutenant, the colonel, the female terrorist, the sergeant...).
  • Flashback:
    • The sequence where an officer tells Simone, Florence and Alice about how he murdered his stepfather when he was a boy.
    • The sequence about Brigadier Sanglant, told by one policeman to the other.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Rafael, who is part of a cocaine smuggling ring, goes on a disapproving rant after seeing French soldiers smoking marijuana.
  • The Immodest Orgasm: Right when the Senechals are going to make love, they hear their guests arriving downstairs. Alice says that the guests can wait five minutes, but her husband tells her that they can't make them wait because, "You scream too loud."
  • It Works Better with Bullets: When Rafael corners the terrorist in his apartment, he takes her gun, but leaves his on the table, seemingly by accident. She picks it up, points it at him, and pulls the trigger. Nothing but clicking.
  • Jackhammered Conversation: When the Interior Minister is telling the police captain why he wants Rafael and his friends released, the sound of a jet flying overhead is heard, masking the conversation. When the police captain is telling his subordinate, the typewriter in the background unaccountably gets much louder.
  • Latin Land: Miranda is somewhere in Latin America. The bishop tries to make small talk with Rafael about it but keeps mixing it up with other countries.
  • Mind Screw: Yes, for both the viewers and the characters.
  • Mirror Monster: In the officer's story about his childhood, his dead mother first appears to him in his mirror. Then she steps out of his closet as a corporeal ghost.
  • Older Than They Look: Everyone is surprised when the maid says she's 52 years old. (The actress was 38.)
  • Our Ghosts Are Different:
    • In the story of the lieutenant, his dead mother appears to him and she tells him to kill his stepfather. The lieutenant's father also briefly appears. His is badly wounded because he was killed by the lieutenant's stepfather.
    • In the dream of the sergeant, he first meets a dead friend. Then he meets his own mother, who is implied to be dead too.
    • The ghost of Brigadier Sanglant appears in the prison and he frees the convicts.
  • Police Brutality: Brigadier Sanglant tortured people to make them talk.
  • Proscenium Reveal: Easily one of the weirdest in cinema. The gang arrives at the colonel's house and sits down for dinner. Suddenly the scene cuts to a reverse angle which shows that the fourth wall is in fact a stage curtain. The curtain rises, and they are revealed to be in a play, with an audience watching, and a prompter whispering cues for their lines. It turns out to be Henri's dream.
  • Random Events Plot: They go out to dinner, but it's the wrong night... they go out to dinner, but the restaurant's owner is dead... a young woman tries to kill Rafael... Rafael and Simone meet for a tryst... the bishop kills a guy...
  • Surreal Humor: Of course. This is Buñuel, after all.
  • Take That!: The film is an attack on the Bourgeoisie's hypocrisy, corruption and sense of entitlement.
  • Two-Timing with the Bestie: Simone is having an affair with her husband's good friend Rafael.
  • You Killed My Father:
    • A soldier poisons the man who he had thought was his father after the ghost of his mother tells him that that man killed the man who actually was his father.
    • The bishop kills the old man who confesses that he poisoned the bishop's parents.