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Bunuel is arguably the greatest of all filmmakers. With the possible
exceptions of Hitchcock and Fassbinder, I can think of no other
director who so completely understood the potential of the medium to
transcend the traditional conventions of narrative, or exploited this
potential with such élan. And he doesn't rely on special effects: we
enter the surreal realm so seamlessly that it at times seems banal.
This is especially the case in 'Le charme': banal people have banal
In order to begin to appreciate Bunuel I had to immerse myself in his milieu, so foreign was his sensibility to the usual expectations I had brought with me into a movie theater.
It took me several viewings to get the 'jokes' if 'Le charme'. The Ambassador from some obscure Latin American country ('Miranda', or 'wonder', a nod to Shakespeare), supports this little microcosm of comfortable Parisian bourgeois respectability with cocaine smuggled in diplomatic pouches. Guests arrive for a dinner party on the wrong evening, and interrupt the hosts having sex. A wake is being held in the back room of the restaurant they are planning to dine at. Ice cubes for martinis must be 'exactly zero degrees'. Elegant ladies sit down for a fashionable afternoon tea, only to be told by their waiter that the restaurant has run out of water (?!!). A soldier then comes to their table and relates his parricidal dream, while the polite ladies listen to him unfazed. One of the ladies discreetly slips away for an assignation with another one's husband. Only Bunuel!
Doubtless the inspiration for this film comes from the Latin Bunuel's lifetime of experience observing the French in situ. Much of its fun comes from simply watching the French be so . . . French. And there is no bourgeois like a French bourgeois!
Much of 'Le Charme' takes place in the nightmares of its characters: you are sitting down for a dinner being hosted by a general, only to realize that you are on stage (with a prompter giving a cue from Don Juan: 'Invite the commander's ghost for dinner!'); your elegant dinner party is broken up by a gang of thugs looking to kill you. However, you are so wedded to the ceremony of the dinner party that you get caught stealing a piece of meat from the table under which you are hiding (and end up dying like a dog!)
I could see this movie a hundred times and always find something new. I would never be bored by it.
Bunuel is very funny, but he is also dense and difficult. One doesn't realize the true complexity of his films because they all seem so effortless. Nothing great comes easily. He's like great Bordeaux: you can't quaff it -- it demands to be sipped.
Bunuel is famous for having the lowest shoot to take ratio of any filmmaker, less than 2:1. Second takes were rare (compare with the reams that end up on the cutting room floor for the typical Spielberg film.) He knew exactly what he wanted to see before he shot. Hitchcock, a director who resembles Bunuel in many ways, famously referred to actors as 'cattle'. For Bunuel, they were probably more like toy soldiers. This isn't to say that he didn't get brilliant performances out of them, especially from his screen alter-ego, the wonderful Fernando Rey.
Henry Miller dubbed his good friend Luis Bunuel "The Last Heretic". I can't think of a higher compliment. Bunuel's memoirs, 'My Last Sigh', are a must read for anyone who wants to have an appreciation of Paris in the 20s, the of art in the last century, and martinis, made as they should be, with gin.
Director Luis Bunuel is often described as a surrealist, but the word
misapplied in reference to his later works, where the the term
absurdism is much more appropriate. Such is the case with the Academy
Award-winning THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, which begins with
four friends who arrive at their hosts' home only to discover they have
arrived on the wrong night--a plausible situation. But before the film
has run its course, Bunuel unravels his tale of a meal that never quite
happens in the most unexpected ways imaginable.
The film works on several levels, mocking social conventions, the church, and eventually spilling its action into a series of overlapping nightmares in which various attempts to dine are frustrated by everything from the corpse of a restaurant manager in a nearby room to military maneuvers. On one memorable occasion, the friends are invited to dine and are seated around an elegant table--when a curtain suddenly rises behind them and reveals them to be seated on a stage before a hostile audience! The cast (which features Fernando Rey, Delphine Seyrig, Paul Frankeur, Bulle Ogier, Stephane Audran and Jean-Pierre Cassel as the constantly frustrated diners) plays with considerable aplomb, performing the most irrational scenes with a magnificent realism. When combined with Bunuel's absurdist story, the result is a disquieting yet often very funny discourse on frustrated appetites both real and imagined, and with many layers of incidental meaning along the way.
A word of caution to the uninitiated: Bunuel is not for those who seek a tidy plot line with clear-cut meanings. But if you come to it with an open mind, you'll find plenty of food for thought!
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The title is certainly intriguing, suggesting something ultra
sophisticated, and we can guess that 'discreet' will be exposed as
'hypocritical,' and the charm will be superficial. In this we are not
disappointed. I should also say this reminds me of the theater of the
absurd that had its heyday in the postwar period in Europe and the US
with Rhinoceros, Six Characters in Search of an Author, Waiting For
Godot, The Birthday Party, etc., and then more or less disappeared,
Roberto Benigni's recent cinematic venture, La Vita e Bella (1997)
notwithstanding. Most critics however would refer to this work as an
example of surrealism, an aesthetic movement in art, theater, cinema,
etc. that grew out of Dadaism in the twenties. But the theater of the
absurd is later, taking its rationale from the existential work of
Camus--see especially his collection of essays, The Myth of Sisyphus
(1942)--and Sartre, while getting its name from a book entitled, The
Theatre of the Absurd (1960) by Martin Esslin. Regardless of how we tag
this, Spanish/French director Luis Buñuel's treatment is indeed
charming and funny.
Fernando Rey stars as a diplomat from the country of 'Miranda' who, along with his five constant friends, cannot seem to ever finish a meal. They are the bourgeoisie who are discreet in their sexual activities and their illegalities (Rey's character apparently smuggles cocaine) while maintaining a sort of absurd decorum in which good manners are paramount. A café runs out of tea, well, they will content themselves with coffee. No coffee, well, water will be fine. Guests arrive a day ahead of time, well, we'll go out instead, won't you join us. When a company of soldiers on maneuvers shows up at the house just as they are sitting down to dinner, they are invited to join them, and when the police come to arrest Rey, they all politely intercede only to follow him to jail. When the one finds that his wife is in his friend's bedroom, he is too polite to object.
Buñuel's technique runs realistic scenes into dream sequences without warning. When a soldier sits down to tea to tell his story of horror, all listen politely. When, for the umpteenth time they are à la table, a curtain parts and they find themselves on stage in front of an audience, they discreetly excuse themselves, saying they have forgotten their lines.
Of course Buñuel must have his little satire of the church, and here he uses a monseigneur who becomes a gardener who hears a last rites confession that reveals that the confessor murdered his, the monseigneur's, parents many years ago. The monseigneur politely and without being ruffled, allows that Jesus forgives him and leaves him in a state of grace, which soothes his conscience as he then picks up a shotgun....
So seamlessly does Buñuel weave his tapestry, that it's sometimes hard to tell when reality ends and the dreams begin, but that is perhaps the point. Our dreams are absurd of course, but then again so is our reality.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
A satire on everyone who's too big for their boots (or secretly wants 2 B),
because they will not achieve the aims they pursuit and are ultimately
doomed to be separated from their privileges when they wake up to reality.
The story may also come across as remote parody on The Last Supper, but from
the bourgeois point of view (who never really get their supper), in contrast
with 'Viridiana' (1961, Buñuel), where the poor and disabled DO get their
Last Supper. But I don't know much about the bible, so I'm probably wrong
about that. It proves though that you don't have to be pious to appreciate
Buñuel's films; in fact, you'd better NOT be.
The 'adventure' of the protagonists is a proverbial sinking ship, because they seem to know what they want, but never reach their goal, which is quite simple and basic (to eat), because they're so caught up in supposed etiquette. They have all kinds of knowledge about manners and gestures, but they cannot sit down and eat. That is actually a fairly clear message: 'look before you leap' or 'behold the priorities of life'.
What's more indiscrete: drinking a martini the wrong way, or selling cocaine abusing your position as an ambassador and fooling around in the garden while you're having friends over for diner? And are you ultimately discrete simply because nobody discovers your subversive or criminal actions? These guys just can't control their carnal and financial lust, while complaining: 'No system can give the masses the proper social graces. But you know me, I'm not a reactionary.' Blah.
Cinematographer Edmond Richard (Le Procès (1963, Welles), Fantôme de la liberté, Cet obscur objet du désir) exhibits his excellent collaboration with Buñuel's visions. Buñuel tried before to make it easier for audiences to understand the imagery by incorporating it in a dream sequence (e.g. Tristana, 1970), but he returns here (as in Belle de Jour, 1967) to the early days (1930) where the dream sequences were just put forward as if they were reality. You'll never know what is a dream and what is real. As always, there is no music here to guide you, apart from the ringing church bells. Just open up your ears and clean out your eyes and you'll not be disappointed.
One last remark: the cover of the video is definitely one of the most applicable and distinctive covers (Ferracci) ever made, as is the cover of 'Fantôme de la liberté' (an odd-faced statue of liberty with a limp torch) by Jean-Paul Commandeur and the cover of 'Cet obscur objet du désir'. Buñuel didn't worry about the surrealism in his own life. He seemed to live in harmony with all his contradictions and hypocrisy.
10 points out of 10 :-)
"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie", a leisurely paced, incisive satire on social mores and class hypocrisy, opens with a group of friends arriving on the wrong day of a dinner engagement. this is only the begining of a succession of unexpected and unusual events to follow. The dinner party is the movie's main setting and it is there that reality and illusion often times blend imperceptibly together. The film is structured as a series of surreal sequences, which prompted esteemed film critic Pauline Kael to opine 'His(Director Louis Bunuel) indifference to dramatic logic is complete.' And how. Bunuel's narrative plays an elaborate game with the viewer through it's subconscious imagery and audacious use of time. His tendency to experiment with technique and form often times led to discovery and innovation. The cinema of Louis Bunuel invariably deals with the discrepancy between appearance and reality; decorum and desire. His world view was subversive and anarchistic. He was a cheerful pessimist, skeptical but not susceptible to Bergmanian despair. His skepticism extended to all of those he found playing too neat a social game. The filmmaker's career was one sustained assault on authoritarianism. Witness an indiscreet character in the film who claims: 'No one system can help the masses acquire refinement.' He believed man was, unconsciously, a slave to custom and aimed to shock viewers out of their unthinking acceptance of established values. "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie"(An Academy Award winner in 1972 for Best Foreign Film) is a boldly inventive picture. Dozens of frames are filled with clever filmic devices: environmental noises increase inordinately during routine conversations; an ambiguous procession is inserted freely within the text. These cinematic ploys add intrigue to the already peculiar goings-on. The walk by the main group of characters along a country roadside is mysterious and compelling. The players are noticeably silent and contemplative. Is this an anxious dream? The afterlife? An insignificant flashback? Whichever, the recurring sequence underscores the obliqueness and cool obscurity of the film. One might not identify closely with the disenchanted Bunuelian sensibility or the unsentimental stance he takes, however one knows immediately and unmistakably that they are in the gifted hands of a film technician like a Godard or Kurosawa. A director in complete control of his medium. A highly personal filmmaker frequently referred as 'a poet of hallucination who follows the caprices of his fantastical imagination.' Someone whose fanciful paths of creation were invariably led by the irrational. "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie", with it's arresting mixture of calculation and carelessness, remains a unique and influential movie. The acerbic films of Robert Altman and the perverse mischievousness of the Coen brothers films, to mention but a few, pay a large debt to the strange universe and unconventional perspective of Louis Bunuel. Film lovers uninitiated in surrealist cinema will find "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" an alluring and beguiling crash course.
Leave it to Luis Bunuel to hit the head of the nail like he did here. The
style and mood created by this movie is immaculate. It is a satirical look
at complete bedlam through the eyes of our meticulous & pedantic champions.
His camera, dialog, settings - everything stays true to his bourgeois focal
point. And nowhere do you ever see them or the camera frame lose their cool
- even with the world in shambles at every turn. They simply walk through
this movie the way blind persons would a construction site.
I've heard it said many times that Bunuel made the bourgeois class enemy number one throughout his lifetime - that, and the catholic church, who also receives a fair share of ridicule in the picture. While this movie is more like a dark comedy there is also, I believe, a strong spiritual/philosophical/& moral whatever statement here: That the world and all its unanswerable/unknowable/ & unwatchable chaos can not be simply pushed aside. You can not brush off the dirt and consider yourself above or separate from it. You are part of the whole, and you are most likely viewed as an ass by 95% of the rest of us to consider yourself otherwise. That IS something to laugh at. Bunuel's life and work was a heroic statement against such an unlikely target. It's Bunuel's arsenal of genius versus the impenetrable ignorance of this giant. Bunuel begrudgingly makes them the protagonists, but betrays them ever so slyly. I love it - a masterpiece.
In Paris, the ambassador Don Rafael Acosta (Fernando Rey) of the South
American country Miranda, who is also an smuggler of cocaine, comes to
a dinner part in the house of Henri (Jean-Pierre Cassel) and Alice
Sénéchal (Stephane Audran) with their common friends M. Thevenot (Paul
Frankeur), his wife Simone Thévenot (Delphine Seyrig) and her sister
Florence (Bulle Ogier) but on the day before the scheduled. Henri is
not at home and they invite Alice to go with them to a restaurant close
to her house, but an incident does not allow them to have meal together
in the place. They reschedule another meal together many times, but
problems occur in every occasion and they do not succeed in their
"Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie" is one of the funniest movies of the master of the surrealism Luis Buñuel. This intellectual director was a great critic of the values of the Bourgeoisie Class and this movie is a witty joke, blurring the fears this class with reality and nightmare, and open to the most different interpretations. The empty, hypocrite and pointless existence of the Bourgeoisie Class is highlighted by the shallow interest of the characters in meal, sex, etiquette and money and their final journey to nowhere; or the behavior of the disloyal ambassador that betrays his friend having a love affair with his wife; smuggles cocaine using his diplomatic immunity; or shoots the toy of a terrorist in front of the Embassy of Miranda. Further, in 1972, the countries of South America lived under military dictatorship with many exiled people living in Paris, and the arrogant Don Rafael Acosta is hilarious denying the truth about his country. Buñuel does not spare the church in his satire, with the funny Monsignor Dufour trying to interfere in every subject without the appropriate knowledge. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "O Discreto Charme da Burguesia" ("The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie")
There are not many artists who could tell the same joke over and over
again and get away with it creating the film as brilliant, funny,
absurd, witty, and clever as Buñuel's "The Discreet Charm of the
Bourgeoisie", 1972. The story of six friends who try to arrange and
have a nice dinner together but cannot complete (or even start) their
meal does not sound very exiting but wait until you watch this comedy.
I've always known how interesting surrealism is but I never thought how
funny it could be. I've seen the film four or five times - it only gets
better with each viewing. Highly recommended.
In Bunuel's "Discreet Charm" we see a film about life! The desire to "feed" one's self is used through out the film. The dinner party is always broken up and they never get a chance to eat. They never go a chance to feed their desires in life be it food or sex. This is used a symbol to show that people are always starving inside and they are always searching (hence the last shot of the film!) A brilliant film by one of the greatest directors of film! 10 out of 10!!
Bunuel's career was one of the most sensational you could dream of.At
least ten of his movies are among my favorites and ten others are not
Once he said :" when I was young and I was watching the sky and saying :"it's beautiful up there and there's nothing;now,I simply say :"it's beautiful"Atheism had turned into agnosticism.Perhaps so,but Bunuel's favorite targets are still here.The bishop and the army are here to stay;they already were in "l'âge d'or" (1930)
"DIscreet charm" is a comprehensive work :it includes almost everything that made Bunuel the genius every cine buff loves ;his permanent features are all included: these bourgeois walking on an endless road are the same who were locked up in the house in "el angel exterminador";Rabal trying to catch one more peace of meat is like the men who were fighting for water in "el angel" .THe selfishness of the bourgeoisie is given a stunning treatment:the impossibility to get a good meal .Bunuel explodes certitudes and he explodes different genres.One of them is the light comedy with its adulteries,its mistaken identities and its contretemps.and if the message is not clear enough,one of the scenes shows the characters on a stage!Another one is the horror and fantasy film : the young boy's mother asking him to kill his father (who is actually not his parent);and most of all the soldier's dream which could provide the substance for at least a whole movie.
Dreamlike sequences are Bunuel's forte .He has sometimes been equaled (André Delvaux:"un soir un train" ) but never surpassed: just think of Pablo's dream in "los olvidados" ;the Christ on the electric wires in "cela s'appelle l'aurore" ;Séverine's fantasies in "Belle de Jour" ;Rey's head as a bell clapper in "Tristana".But in "discreet charm" Bunuel seems to connect all the links of the chain and his film becomes a tapestry of Bayeux where dreams and reality follow naturally. "I dreamed ,Thevenot says,that Senechal dreamed that he was on a stage and ..." It' s "Jacob's ladder" twenty years before that later movie appears.
It's also a political movie,but not a work for highbrows .What he did not fully achieved with the spotty "la fièvre monte à El Pao" ,and the more interesting "death in the garden" ,Bunuel pulls it off with gusto here.The republic (sic) of Miranda whose ambassador is none other than Rey is ,even if we never see it , depicted in minute lavish detail .Unlike highbrows like Godard who deals out his lecture on Mao in "la chinoise" ,Luis Bunuel remains accessible to everybody:we laugh and we laugh a lot when we discover the harsh realities of Miranda Land which has no pyramids ,but has Nazis and poverty.Actually it's not that much funny.
A word about the cast;it's perfect:Rey is wonderful as a drug trafficker ambassador who is always afraid to be slain ;Stephane Audran and Jean-Pierre Cassel had teamed up two years before in another attack against bourgeoisie ,Chabrol's "la rupture" ;Bulle Ogier,for once,forgets her usual parts who give the non-intellectual terrible headaches and manages to stay very natural;Claude Piéplu and his inimitable voice (make sure you hear his voice:nobody can dub him successfully) portrays a colorful colonel who tells the ambassador home truth and literally invades Audran's house with his staff and has lunch with the guests (a meal where the bourgeois,the Church and the Army eat together is something to watch).But for me the stand-out is feminist Delphine Seyrig,with her beaming face,her preciosity and her sweet stupidity.
To say that "discreet charm" is a masterpiece is to state the obvious.Maybe Bunuel's tour de force lies in the fact that even in reality,strange things happen and the characters do not seem to be surprised and shocked.... as long as their privileges are not called into question.If you should only see one Bunuel film,you had to choose this one.But if you like it,treasures are waiting for you.
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