All characters that are in a Luis Bunuel film are psychologically trapped. They are trapped in his universe of utter hell, and for are entertainment we watch as they desperately try to break free, with us knowing they cannot. Luis Bunuel has been one of the most cynical directors ever since he created his radical surreal masterpiece Un Chien Andalou along with Salvaldor Dali in 1929, which is iconic for showing an woman's eye-ball getting sliced from a razor. Bunuel believed most people were hypocrites, especially the wealthy and comfortable, which is primarily who he enjoyed focusing on tormenting throughout his films, presenting the cruel, bleak and destructive views of human existence. He also had a streak of pessimism and nihilism; like for instance in his film masterpiece Viridiana, in which a character is saddened by the sight of a dog tied to a wagon and decides to buy the dog to free it; and yet at the same time another dog tied to another wagon goes past the man unnoticed in the background. When directing The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie he was 72 years old and I believe this film is less cruel than his earlier work and seems more fun and comical. Maybe Bunuel is mellowing out a little bit and not looking at the universe so harshly as he had in the past, but still enjoys having his characters suffer and get humiliated in ways that we as an audience guiltily enjoy seeing. It's hard to make logical sense of its story as the film's structure is thematically linked with dream sequences of several different characters, flashbacks, or a dream within a dream. Its unusual plot consists on five bourgeois friends who go to a couples house to have dinner; and every time they arrive to eat there seems to be an interruption of some sort that stops them from having their meal. Luis Bunuel was known to have life long fetishes and one of them for some reason was the act and tradition of sitting down for dinner. In The Exterminating Angel, Bunuel presents a bunch of Bourgeois guests who go to a house for dinner and for some unexplained reason; cannot leave the guest room and end up staying for several weeks.
The film begins with a bourgeois couple the Thévenots, named Francois (Paul Frankeur) and Simone (Delphine Seyrig), Francois's colleague Don Rafael Acosta (Fernando Rey) and Simone's sister Florence (Bulle Ogier), arriving to the house of the Sénéchals, who are the hosts of a dinner party as they pull up into the driveway. Everyone is French except for Don Rafael who is a foreigner from Miranda. They all ring the doorbell as the for wait with an awkward pause and fake smiles.
Sénéchal's maid Ines (Milena Vukotic) lets them in and everyone is surprised to see the dinner table isn't set and the fireplace isn't lit yet. "There's not even a fire? And the table isn't set yet." Alice Sénéchal (Stéphane Audran) comes down the stairs to see them and explains that she and her husband Henri Sénéchal (Jean-Pierre Cassel) expected them the following evening. Don Rafael says, "You weren't expecting us?" The would-be guests swear that her husband Henri scheduled it for tonight, realizing it's all a misunderstanding.
Alice doesn't know what to say and Henri's at a business dinner. "In any case, tomorrow night is out. I couldn't have accepted. I've a dinner at the Colombian Embassy," says Don Rafael. Alice would invite them to eat with her but there is nothing ready, and so the four are about to leave until Francois suggests they all go to a charming inn nearby and dine there. Alice isn't dressed but Francois says its an informal place. She agrees to come but first has to change her dress.
Finally arriving at the inn, the party find it locked. They knock and are invited in, despite the waitress' seeming reluctance and an ominous mention of 'new management' that has changed 3 months ago. "Not very crowded," Alice says when everyone walks in. Inside, there are no diners, and when taking a seat realize how disconcertingly cheap the prices are. "This place is cheap. A cheap, empty restaurant is dubious," Alice says. Suddenly the sound of wailing voices are coming from another room, and the women get up and investigate. One of the waitresses says, "The owner. He died suddenly this afternoon. We were so fond of him." and his former employees are now holding a ceremony over his corpse, awaiting the coroner. "He died in that suit?" The servers apologize and say they remain at their service. The party hurriedly leave with the women now losing their appetite and they decide to call it a night.
The next morning at Don Rafael's office Henry and Francois walk in, and Don Rafael asked Henri what happened the night before but Henri tells him he scheduled the dinner a different night. Francois takes a look outside the window and says, "Say, there's a pretty girl outside." They all look outside and see a Latin American woman playing with little toy dogs outside on the street and so Don Rafael takes a gun and aims out the window and shoots one of the little toy dogs.
She looks up at Don Rafael as he says, "She's from Miranda. She's part of a terrorist group that's been after me for years." When asked to do what, Don Rafael says, "To do what? To kidnap me, murder me. You never know with terrorists." He can't alert the police because Don Rafael is involved in the drug cartel business with Henri and Francois; which seems to be cocaine trafficking. While they discuss some of their illegal dealings with the exchange of money, the sound of a plane overhead muffles some of their dialogue.
Two days later, the bourgeois friends attempt to try again and have lunch at the Sénéchals, but Henri and Alice get interrupted trying to have sex upstairs. "The guests are hear," Ines says knocking on the bedroom door. Henri tells Ines to serve the guests drinks and Alice to Henri, "They can wait 5 minutes. Come on..." The two decide to escape out the window to have sex because Henri says Alice makes too much noise.
While everyone is waiting for the hosts to come down for what it seems to be a long period of time Francois decides to show everyone the proper way to drink a martini, (which is humorous because Luis Bunuel loved to make his own martini's). He says, "There's nothing more relaxing than a dry martini. I'll mix them. I'm afraid these glasses are out of style. For a dry martini the class one-shaped glass is best. The Ice cubes come first. They have to be first-rate. Very cold, very hard. About 20 to 30 degrees, zero below."
Henri and Alice are climbing out the window and try to allude Ines the maid as they escape to the garden to have sex. While inside waiting Francois asks Don Rafael,"We'll try something. Get your chauffeur," Don Rafael calls in his chauffeur and Francois asks him, "Do us the pleasure of having a drink with us." The chauffeur drinks the dry martini Francois had made, thanks them and leaves. "Did you see that? That was precisely the way not to drink a dry martini," Francois says successfully proving his point. "You're being hard on Maurice. He's a commoner. He's uneducated," says Simone. Don Rafael says, "No system can give the masses the proper social graces. But you know me. I'm not a reactionary."
The Sénéchals not coming down to host them makes Don Rafael think that perhaps the Sénéchals informed the police fearing the discovery of their involvement in cocaine trafficking and says, "Why else would they run out like that?" Francois tells the women that they should all leave to avoid arrest and so the party leaves in panic.
Right as they all are leaving the bishop Monsignor Dufour comes by and rings the Sénéchals bell. Ines the maid answers and welcomes him in with him asking her, "I'm Monsignor Dufour, bishop of this diocese. Are Mr. and Mrs. Senechals at home? May I wait for them?" The bishop takes a seat and asks Ines, "Is that the gardener's shed I saw as I came up?" She says yes but he was fired last week. The bishop has a smile on his face as he goes into the shed looking at the tools and gardener's outfit, while Alice and Henri sneak back into the house not knowing the guests already had left. Ines tells them the guests suddenly left looking scared and suddenly the Bishop rings the doorbell.
The Bishop is now dressed in the gardener's clothes as he introduces himself saying, "I'm your Monsignor Dufour, bishop of this diocese. I'd like to speak to you."When he introduces himself as the bishop, Henri doesn't believe it saying, "Who's he kidding, get the hell out!" and rudely throws him out. He asks Ines, "You let in strangers just like that?" Ines said he was a bishop and they can't believe she believed him. The doorbell rings once again and its the Bishop now in his church robes. "You see? Do you believe me now?" They now embrace him with deference, exposing their prejudice, snobbery, and hypocrisy.
Henri asks the Bishop, "Will you forgive us? Do what do I owe this honor." The bishop says, "It's quite simple I'd like to be your gardener. Tend your garden...the vegetables, the flowers, the lawn. You do need a gardener? Then I'm asking for the position. Don't be surprised. The Church has changed, you know. You've heard of worker priests? The same goes for bishops." Henri finds it a strange request and asks why.
The bishop explains to them about his childhood saying, "My parents...God rest their souls, they both died violent deaths. My parents had a fine gardener. I learned everything from him." The bishop tells them about how his parents were murdered by arsenic poisoning, and the culprit who was a gardener was never apprehended. They accept the bishop for the gardener job, as the bishop tells Henri he has some grass in his hair.
The next scene shows the six characters walking silently and purposefully on a long, isolated country road toward a mysterious destination.
The next sequence is the three women at a tea house, which turns out to have run out of all beverages - tea, coffee, milk and herbal tea, although it finally turns out that they do have water. While they are waiting, a Lieutenant soldier keeps staring at the women. The soldier comes by, keeps them his guard and introduces himself, saying, "If I may...Hubert de Rochcahin, cavalry lieutenant. May I join you." He takes a seat and asks if the women if they had a happy childhood. The women all say they did besides Florence and the soldier says, "My childhood was tragic. May I tell you about it? "Here? Now?" asks Alice. The soldier says, "It's a bit long, but interesting. I remember, I was 11..."
He then begins his story about his childhood and how, after the death of his mother, his education was taken over by his harsh cold-hearted father. One day the soldier's mother appears as a ghost and informs him that the man is not his real father. She points to her father as the ghost of his father appears (bloody bullet wound and all). She explains how in fact the soldier's father was killed during a duel over his mother. Following his dead mother's orders, the soldier poisoning the culprit's milk, and he dies during the night while the ghost of the mother and father watch. The soldier finishes his story by saying, "A few days later I left for military school where an exciting life awaited me."
After the story Francois's wife Simone says she has to leave for an appointment and goes to see De Rafael; in which it shows them having a secret love affair. When arriving at De Rafael's apartment he wants to make love and for her to get undressed right away. "Get undressed, quick," he tells her.
Suddenly their interrupted when the doorbell rings and its Francois her husband. He arrived to invite De Rafael to Sénéchals dinner party that night. Suddenly he hears his wife in the other room and he asks, "is that my wife in your bedroom? That's odd." Simone comes out lying and says she came by to also send De Rafael the invitation. Francois and Simone are about to leave together and De Rafael makes an excuse saying he wants to show Simone the sursicks. Francois confused says, "Ah, yes. I'll wait in the car."
After he leaves De Rafael tries to have his way with her and she asks what sursiks are and De Rafael says, "I don't know. It doesn't matter. Come quick!" He tries to have a quickie with her but Simone says no and decides to leave telling him she will see him later that night at the Senechals. When looking out the window watching them them leave De Rafael notices the Italian terrorist coming into his apartment and he grabs a hidden gun and sneaks up to her from behind with a gun saying, "Don't move. Hands up. Your better qualified for love then for war."
He pulls her in his apartment saying, "You think I am a bastard. I'd even be a socialist, if socialists believed in God." He asks how old she is and she picks up a lamb and throws it. "You and your friends haven't a chance," he tells her. "Violence will get you nowhere. I've always said so. You're a good little housewife. Bread, lettuce, the key to dreams. A man forewarned is forearmed, don't you think?" He searches the woman's bag and finds a gun. "Some champagne?" She takes the champagne glass and throws it. "Basically we think alike," De Rafael says. "Take the bomb and pollution. You're against. Well, so am I. You're for free love. So am I." When he touches her leg she yells, "How dare you touch me! Mao Tse-tung was right...!"
When the woman starts angrily getting up and yelling a horn from the street drowns out her dialogue. "If Mao said that, it means he misread Freud. When all is said and done, the only solution to famine and poverty is the military solution," says De Rafael. "You'll see in Miranda, when you have to spread your pretty thighs to an infantry battalion. Don't you agree." She picks up Da Rafael's gun and pulls the trigger but it's not loaded. Da Rafael takes her gun and says, "Yours must be loaded. Since your here to kill me. I could easily eliminate you. Self-defense. But I'll show you how generous I can be. The door is open. Get out!" After he lets her go he looks out the window and signals his associates to grab the woman when leaving his apartment.
Later that evening at Sénéchals dinner party Don Rafael is talking to the bishop in which the bishop talks about Don Rafael's homeland Miranda; which leads to a funny dialog sequence.
"I'm delighted to meet you. You know we have a large mission in Bogotá."
"Bogotá is in Colombia."
"That's right, it is in Colombia. I got mixed up. I've don't know Miranda but I hear it's a magnificent country. The Andes, the pampas..."
"The pampas are in Argentina, your Grace."
"You're right. Of course. I ought to know that. I Recently saw a book on Latin America. It had superb photos of your ancient pyramids."
"Our pyramids? We have no pyramids in Miranda. Mexico and Guatemala have them, we don't."
"Are you sure?"
Dinner is ready. As the friends sit around the dinner table of the Senèchals and are about to take part in the meal, a crowd of soldiers led by their Colonel enter the house. The Colonel says, "Ladies, gentlemen, good evening." Henri says that he was hoping to expect them tomorrow but the Colonel says that the maneuvers were moved up a day. Alice sees what she can do and arranges a table for the soldiers to eat at. "In the meantime, won't you have a drink and meet our friends?" Alice says.
The Colonel starts smoking a joint and everyone starts discussing marijuana as Florence happily smokes a joint with them. "I wouldn't have believe you smokes in the army," De Rafael tells the colonel. "In my country, for example, the army is incredibly strict." The Colonel says marijuana is nothing but Francois says its the first step towards worse. De Rafael says, "6,000 U.S. Marines were discharged recently because they were drug addicts."
The Colonel says, "Marijuana isn't a drug. Take Vietnam, for instance. From generals to privates, everybody smokes." use in the military and how the soldiers in Vietnam smoke it from the general down to the private. Simone says, "And what happens? They bomb their own troops." The Colonel then says "If they bomb their own troop, they must be a reason." The Bishop says, "I remember during the Great War, our men had to drink 3 liters of wine a day. Despite those 3 liters there were still many deserters. They were machine gunned by police. Hundreds were killed." Alice then announces, "I think we can eat now. I hope we can all squeeze in. Obviously, the portions are small. But there are eggs, ham and cheese."
Suddenly before eating the Coronel has orders from the HQ to leave with his men because the Green Army's attacked, but then is reminded that the sergeant has a charming dream to relate. The sergeant (Same lieutenant soldier that told his childhood dream earlier) says "I had a dream last week...I was taking a walk at dusk in a busy shopping street." He was roaming the streets during war and meets a friend of his named Ramirez, who says he lives around here.
Suddenly another friend informs him Ramirez has died 6 years ago. When he sees his dead mother again, (where it flashes to her getting buried by dirt grasping a crucifix) he looks to get his dead friend Ramirez so they both can meet each other but can't seem to find him anywhere and when coming back to his mother he now finds her gone as well. "Where are you mother? I seek you among the shadows. Mother?" The sergeant ends the story saying, "I went off in search of my mother, but the street was full of shadows and no one responded." The sergeant is about to tell the 'train dream' but the Colonel says that they don't have time and have to leave.
Alice is about to serve the guests coffee as the Bishop begins to tell Bible stories but he seems to bore everyone at the table as they hear the beginning of maneuvers outside, hoping the military will spare the house. The Colonel returns and asks if the noise is bothering anyone saying, "It's an artillery barrage. The cavalry will attack in 20 minutes." The Colonel wanted to extend his apologies and invite the guests to a dinner party of his own, which he is having the following night.
In one of the most interesting scenes of the film the friends arrive at the party and sit down at the dinner table. When the roast chickens are accidentally dropped by the servant they turn out to be stage props. Henri asks, "Is this a joke?" Then they hear a hammering sound, the lights turn on and the curtain goes up. The guests find themselves on stage before a live audience, while they are being whispered their lives from underneath the stage. Of course instead of being surprised by the strange event the group is more worried that they forgotten their lines for the audience. "God, what am I doing here? I don't know my lines!" says Henri as the audience starts to whistle and boo.
Suddenly you realize it was a dream sequence by Henri Senèchal, who had accidentally dozed off before taking his wife to the actual party of the Colonel. Henri and Alice finally arrive late at the party and The Colonel's wife happily offers them something to drink. At the party, the Colonel's wife asks De Rafael about his home country asking, "Is it true that in certain parts of Miranda there's still dire poverty?" De Rafael says, "You've been misled. Our economy is booming, as the statistics show." De Rafael is again bothered by questions about his countries problems as one soldier asks, "I'm told your judges and policeman often accept bribes." De Rafael says, "In the past, perhaps. There were instances, as everywhere. But we are a true democracy now. Corruption no longer exists. Excuse me." De Rafael tells Simone that he doesn't believe he belongs there. In one of the funniest parts of the film De Rafael is uncomfortably dragged into a conversation with the Colonel in which the Colonel says:
"Your country's been in the news lately, at least here. I read that Miranda holds the world record for the number of homicides per capita."
"No, Colonel, you're mistaken."
"Hardly. It seems people kill at the drop of a hat. At least 30 deaths daily."
"No, Colonel. I thing you're trying to offend me."
"Not at all. I know what I'm talking about. I read it in a very serious report."
"Allow me not to take your word for it."
"I repeat, I know what I'm talking about."
"If I weren't your guest I would demand satisfaction."
"I wasn't aware this chivalrous custom existed in your semi-barbaric land."
"You have just insulted the Republic of Miranda."
"I couldn't give a tinker's damn about Miranda."
"And I shit on your entire army."
The Colonel slaps De Rafael and walks away. During the commotion De Rafael angrily pulls out a gun and shoots the Colonel in front of everyone at the party. The events that take place are in fact a dream had by François Thevenot and when waking up he tells his wife, "I dreamed that I...First I dreamed that Senechal dreamed that we went to a theater...Then, that we were invited to the Colonel's, and that he argued with Rafael..."
The next scene shows the six characters walking silently and purposefully on a long, isolated country road toward a mysterious destination.
That next sequence is at Senèchals as the bishop is planting flowers and Alice says that they are having some guests for lunch and invites him to join them when he's done. Suddenly a woman arrives to ask the bishop to give absolution to a dying man (Alice at first forgets at first that the Bishop is a priest, getting used to him working as their gardener) and so the Bishop leaves to help the poor man. Before going in the barn where the sick man is, the woman who sent for him says to the Bishop, "Father, I want to tell you something. I really don't like Jesus Christ. Even as a little girl I hated him." He says, "such a good, gentle God? How is that possible?" She wants to tell him why, but the Bishop tells her to let him first tend to the sick man and then they can talk later.
When the bishop walks in he says to the old man, "I bring you the solace of religion. You wish to confess? Tell me your sins." The dying man says, "Many years ago I committed a crime. I killed a man and a woman. My employers. I killed them both. They treated me so harshly." The dying man shows the picture of the people he killed, and the Bishop says that the little boy in the photograph is him, and that the employers he killed while the man worked as their gardener were his parents. "I remember this photo. I often saw it. Those you killed were my parents. They never found the culprit," the bishop tells him.
The dying man says that his parents treated him like an animal, and the father was a brute and he..."Calm down," the Bishop says. "You want absolution before you meet your maker? The Lord forgives the most hardened criminals. See the example he gives by uniting us here. Close your eyes, gather your thoughts...and pray." The bishop then slowly gets up and takes the old man's rifle and shoots the man, thus closing the circle of hypocrisy.
When the party arrives at the Senèchals the six sit down at the table to eat, and De Rafael invites them all to his home in Miranda. Suddenly the police arrive and interrupt them before they can eat. The police decide to arrest De Rafael and when he says they have no right, the inspector says, "I have every right. You're not on Embassy grounds. The warrant." When asked about Diplomatic immunity the inspector says, "Diplomatic immunity? The hell with it! Take him away!" The inspector then arrests Henri Senechal and Francois Thevenot, after Francois tries to charm the inspector." Simone says, "You can't arrest people just like that?" The inspector says, "The women, too! Take them away! Search the house: Bedrooms, basements...the works!"
While the whole party are sitting in their cells the night officers in the jail tell a story about a sergeant who was a ruthless man who tortured suspects and was later murdered on June 14th. It is said he comes back from the dead every June 14th to redeem himself, as the day is known to officers as 'Bloody Sergeant.' That evening you then see the dead sergeant walking into the jail and releasing the party guests from their cells. (They curiously have a framed picture of the dead Sergeant at the jail).
Suddenly the inspector who arrested the party wakes up from a dream and tells his partner (who was the dead sergeant in the dream) that he dreamed he let the group go. The officer then gets a call from the minister demanding him to release the party immediately and when the officer asks why, you can't hear the minister's explanation because of the sound of a plane flying over the building which drowns out the explanation. The inspector tells the Sergeant to let the party go, as his explanation is drowned out as well by the sound of a typewriter.
The next scene De Rafael is at the Senèchals place, as he Henri and Alice wait for the rest of the party to arrive before having dinner. Once they arrive they all sit down to eat lamb. When the maid Ines serves the food she is asked how her fiancee is, and she unfortunately says they broke up because she was too old. (She says she is 52 and we are told used to work for Henri's parents, even though she isn't doesn't look over 25.) Henri says to everyone, "I read they arrested a Nazi in Miranda a Von something or other who ran a concentration camp. He seems he was a real butcher." De Rafael again tries to defend his homeland by saying, "Calling him a butcher strikes me as a bit excessive. I met him once and I can assure you...he's a true gentleman." Francois asks, "Is it true they're many Nazi's in Miranda?" When the lamb is served Henri says, "Few people know it, but you carve a lamb standing. Right, Francois? It's more proper, remember that."Everyone finally gets the chance to eat as Francois says, "You'll be my guests, next time. Wait until you taste my caviar."
Suddenly the window breaks and mafia like gangsters break into the home yelling, "Everybody, on your feet! Hands behind your heads! Get in the back! When we search the house, we'll have plenty of time to talk." Suddenly after lining everyone up they shoot them all down by bullets. In a really funny scene De Rafael is seen hiding under the dinner table but betrays himself by greedily reaching up for the lamb still on his plate. Right when getting shot De Rafael wakes up realizing it's a bad dream and decides to go to the kitchen and eat some food from the fridge.
The last scene shows the six characters walking silently and purposefully on a long, isolated country road toward a mysterious destination while you hear the sound of an overhead plane.
SEEING: In his sixties, Buñuel finally achieved the choice of subject matter, the means, the creative freedom so long denied him. But Buñuel has always proved hardier than the minimal or optimal conditions of production offered him; he constantly remarks that, given a $5-million budget, he would still film a $500,000 movie. An obsessive artist, Buñuel cares about what he wants to say; or rather, what he wants to see. A really important director makes only one film; his work is a sum, a totality of perfectly related parts that illuminate each other. In Buñuel’s films, from Un Chien Andalou to The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, the essential unifying factor is sight. His first image is that of a woman’s eye slit by a razor and throughout the body of his work there is this pervading sense of sight menaced, sight lost as virginity is lost; sight as a wound that will not heal, wounded sight as an interstice through which dreams and desires can flow. Catherine Deneuve’s absent regard in Belle de jour is calculated. She is constantly looking outside the confines of the screen, enlarging the space of the screen, looking at something beyond that isn’t there, that probably connects the two halves of her life.
But Buñuel’s violent aggressions against sight actually force us back to his particular way of seeing. His world is seen first as a grey, hazy, distant jumble of undetermined things; no other director shoots a scene from quite that neutral, passive distance. Then the eye of the camera suddenly picks out an object that has been there all the time, or a revealing gesture, zooms into them, makes them come violently alive before again retiring to the indifferent point of view.
This particular way of seeing, of making the opaque backdrop shine instantly by selecting an object or gesture, assures the freedom and fluid elegance of a Buñuel film. Sight determines montage; what is seen flows into what is unseen. The camera fixes on a woman’s ankle or the buzzing box a Korean takes to a brothel; the woman’s shoes lead to desire or the Korean’s stare to mystery, mystery and desire to dream, dream to a dream within it and the following cut back to everyday normality has already compounded reality with the fabulous; the meanest, most violent or weakest character has achieved a plurality of dimensions that straight realism would never reveal. The brutal gang leader in Los Olvidados is redeemed by his dream of fright and solitude: A black dog silently races down a rainy street at night. And you cannot altogether hate the stupid, avaricious people in The Discreet Charm; their dreams are too funny; they are endowed with a reluctantly charming dimension; they are doomed, yet they survive.
Cruel and destructive: Such were the adjectives reserved for his early films; now they are elegant and comical. Has the dynamite-flinging miner of Asturias, as Henry Miller called him, mellowed so much? On the contrary: I believe his technique has simply become more finely honed, his sense of inclusiveness through sight wider. More things are seen, understood, laughed at and perhaps forgiven. Besides, the author is debating himself. Is that a Buñuel stand-in who drones in The Milky Way: “My hatred towards science and technology will surely drive me back to the despicable belief in God”?
Sight connects. Buñuel has filmed the story of the first capitalist hero, Robinson Crusoe, and Crusoe is saved from loneliness by his slave, but the price he must pay is fraternity, seeing Friday as a human being. He has also filmed the story of Robinson’s descendants in The Discreet Charm, and these greedy, deceptive people can only flee their overpopulated, polluted, promiscuous island into the comic loneliness of their dreams. Sight and survival, desires and dreams, seeing others in order to see oneself. This parabola of sight is essential to Buñuel’s art. Nazarin will not see God unless he sees his fellow men; Viridiana will not see herself unless she sees outside herself and accepts the world. The characters in The Discreet Charm can never see themselves or others. They may be funny, but they are already in hell. Elegant humor only cloaks despair.
So in Buñuel sight determines content or, rather, content is a way of looking, content is sight at all possible levels. And this multitude of levels—social, political, psychological, historical, esthetic, philosophic, is not predetermined, but flows from vision. His constant tension is between obsessive opposites: pilgrimage and confinement, solitude and fraternity, sight and blindness, social rules and personal cravings, rational conduct and oneiric behavior. His intimate legacies, often conflicting, are always there: Spain, Catholicism, surrealism, left anarchism. But, above all, what is always present is the liberating thrust that could only come from such a blend of heritages. Certainly no other filmmaker could have so gracefully and violently humanized and brought into the fold of freedom, rebellion and understanding so many figures, so many passions, so many desires that the conventional code judges as monstrous, criminal and worthy of persecution and, even, extermination. The poor are not forcibly good and the rich are not forcibly evil; Buñuel incriminates all social orders while liberating our awareness of the outcast, the deformed, the maimed, the necrophiles, the lesbians, the homosexuals, the fetishists, the incestuous, the whorish, the cruel children, the madmen, the poets, the forbidden dreamers. He never exploits this marginality, because he makes it central to his vision. He has set the highest standards for true cinematic freedom.
And finally, this respect for freedom of his characters is translated into respect for the freedom of his audience. As they end, his films remain open, the spectator remains free. A flock of sheep enters the church of The Exterminating Angel as civil strife explodes in the streets. An empty carriage rolls down a wooded lane while the horses’ bells jingle in Belle de jour. Nazarin accepts a gift of a pineapple from a humble woman as the drums of Calanda start pounding and the whole structure of the priest’s mind turns and opens toward the future. Viridiana sits down and plays cards with her cousin and the cook as they listen to rock recordings. A bell with the face of her victim and victimizer telescopes Tristana back to the very beginning of her story. The mad husband in El zigzags his way down a monastery garden where he thinks he has achieved peace of mind. The six listless characters in The Discreet Charm, driven by an irrational urge, trudge down an unending highway.
If the end in a Buñuel film can mean exactly the contrary, the beginnings of his films can be terrifying. L’Age d’Or starts with a scorpion and that scorpion, encircled by fire, is committing suicide with its own poisonous tail. It is the center of a flaming eye. Buñuel has written: “The camera is the eye of the marvelous. When the eye of the cinema really sees, the whole world goes up in flames.”
DYING: We walk in silence down a wintry Parisian boulevard. Buñuel is a friend, a warm, humorous, magnificent friend, and one can be with him without having to say anything.
We reach his hotel and go up to his room. He always reserves the same one; the windows open on the black and grey tombstones, the naked trees of the Montparnasse cemetery. It has rained all day, but at this hour of the afternoon a very pure, diaphanous light seems to drip from the fast moving clouds. Buñuel starts packing for the flight back to Mexico City.
Every now and then, he gazes at the trees and murmurs: “I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of dying alone in a hotel room, with my bags open and a shooting script on the night table. I must know whose fingers will close my eyes.”
After having announced that Tristana would be his last film due to feeling like he was repeating himself in his films, Buñuel met with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière and discussed the topic of repetition. Shortly afterwards he met with film producer Serge Silberman, who told him an anecdote about having forgotten about a dinner party and being surprised to find six hungry friends show up at his front door. Buñuel was suddenly inspired and Silberman agreed to give him a $2,000 advance to write a new script with Carrière, combining Silberman's anecdote with the idea of repetition. Buñuel and Carrière wrote the first draft in three weeks and finished the fifth draft by the Summer of 1971, with the title originally being Bourgeois Enchantment.
Silberman was finally able to raise the money for the film in April 1972 and Buñuel began pre-production. Buñuel cast many actors whom he had worked with in the past, such as Fernando Rey and Michel Piccoli, and catered their roles to their personalities. He had more difficulty casting the female leads and allowed actresses Delphine Seyrig and Stéphane Audran to choose which parts they would like to play, before changing the script to better suit the actresses. Jean-Pierre Cassel auditioned for his role and was surprised when Buñuel cast him after simply glancing at him once.
Filming began on May 15, 1972 and lasted for two months with an $800,000 budget. In his usual shooting style, Buñuel shot few takes and often edited the film in camera and during production. Buñuel and Silberman had a long running and humorous argument as to whether Buñuel took one day or one and a half days to edit his films. On the advice of Silberman, Buñuel used video playback monitors on the set for the first time in his career, resulting in a vastly different style than any of his previous films, including zooms and travelling shots instead of his usual close-ups and static camera framing.
It also resulted in Buñuel being more comfortable on set, and in limiting his already minimal direction to technical and physical instructions. This frustrated Cassel, who had never worked with Bunuel before, until Rey explained that this was Buñuel's usual style and that since they were playing aristocrats their movements and physical appearance was more important than their inner motivation. Buñuel once joked that whenever he needed an extra scene he simply filmed one of his own dreams. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie includes three of Buñuel's recurring dreams: a dream of being on stage and forgetting his lines, a dream of meeting his dead cousin in the street and following him into a house full of cobwebs, and a dream of waking up to see his dead parents staring at him.
Bunuel’s early silent short films like the 16-minute short film, Un Chien Andalou with Salvaldor Dalí were groundbreaking because they featured a series of startling images of a “Freudian nature” most iconically a cow’s eye being slashed open with a razor. Than came L’ Age d’ Or which also featured shocking images and was read to be an attack on Catholicism, and thus, added an even larger scandal than Un Chien Andalou. The right-wing press criticized the film and the police placed a ban on it that lasted 50 years. His early films were so groundbreaking and shocking that it actually started a genre known as the surrealism movement, which now is a film style most commonly used by filmmakers like David Lynch.
Luis Bunuel has made some of the greatest films in the world including, Los Olvidados which was about a group of juvenile delinquents living a crime-filled life in the slums of Mexico City, Nazarin which involves a priest trying to live a pure life even though other’s wont let him, Bella de Jour, which told the story about a young woman who is compelled to spend her midweek afternoons as a prostitute while her husband is at work, and The Exterminating Angel which is a farce on a bunch of upper-class guests who go to a dinner party but for some reason cannot leave. Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is one of the more easier of his surreal films to digest compared to his other films like The Phantom of Liberty, Viridiana, The Obscure Object of Desire, The Milky Way or The Exterminating Angel. It was also Bunuel's most successful film and even made more money than his most famous film earlier Bella de Jour. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1971 and was named the year's best by the National Society of Film Critics. Critic Roger Ebert said "it was released in a year when social unrest was at its height, the Vietnam War was in full flower, and the upper middle class was a fashionable target of disdain."
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisieone is of Luis Bunuel's strangest and funniest films; and after watching it again trying to find meaning in its bizarre narrative structure I came to the conclusion that there really wasn't any. Buñuel plays tricks on his characters, luring them toward fine dinners that they expect, and then repeatedly frustrating them in new inventive ways; not allowing them to eat. They complain, and politely express their outrage, but they never stop trying; and they relentlessly expect and keep pursuing all that they want, as though it was their natural right to have others serve and pamper them.
Bunuel exposes their sense of entitlement, their hypocrisy, and their corruption and I believe within the dream sequences, he explores their intense fears. For instance, Francois dream sequence is his fear of his partner De Rafael committing a murder at the Colonel's house party. Henri Senèchal's dream sequence is being publicly humiliated in front of an audience. (Even though you can argue that his dream sequence seems to be embedded in Francois dream sequence.) The police chiefs dream sequence is fear of his partner letting his prisoners go and De Rafael dream sequence is of his shady deals coming back and murdering him and everyone else at the dinner party. In some ways you could look at it as the whole film being De Rafael's dream about his friends dreaming within their dreams; since the story does end with De Rafael waking up at the very end.
The flashback sequences don't make much sense with the linear story especially with the soldier flashback of him getting revenge on the death of his parents and seeing the ghost of his mother and one of his men in his unit during the war. The bishop becoming a gardener even though doesn't fit as well still works better within the overall theme of the film. How he goes against everything he believes in by murdering the man who killed his parents when he was a child; is very, very funny; and is another knock at organized religion which I know Bunuel loves to do. The film’s narrative flow, of dreams, character's telling stories, flashbacks within stories, and dreams within dreams, are all presented very creatively, my favorite sequence being the live stage dream, which is discovered when they all realize the roast chickens are simply stage props, and the curtain goes up and the guests find themselves on stage before an audience. Off course, they're more worried that they don't remember their lines for the audience, then the strange context that the character's are placed in.
Even if this film doesn't make coherent sense it still works brilliantly because the comedy works brilliantly. Bunuel's comedies are not the traditional comedies in movies where he goes for simple punch lines, one liners or gags. His jokes run deeper and involve more slightly satiric metaphors on the absurtities of social customs and rituals; and even seem to have more profound wisdom then most dramas seem to emcompass. I think the highlight of the film is when everyone is insulting De Rafael because he is not French but a foreigner, and people keep insulting his homeland Miranda. They say his country is either high in violence and police corruption or full of serial killers which of course makes De Rafael very angry; while he pathetically tries to defend his country with horrible nonsensical excuses. De Rafael seems to be the type of person that we have all met at a social gathering, a person who takes his political ideologies very seriously, and will take offense to the slightest comments that they don't personally agree with. Bunuel believes (like religion, and every other absurdest notion that people seem to take too serious) politics shouldn't be taking so damn seriously, probably because its a unending and continuous debate with no right or wrong views. Whenever a character in the film is either explaining their political beliefs, their reasons or it, or trying to explain what they necessarily believe in, Bunuel purposely drowns out their voice by an outside noise like a overhead plane, or the horn of a motor vehicle. The reason why Bunuel does this is probably because Bunuel doesn't care about politics, and he knows his films don't need them. Right from the beginning of the film we are aware how each character's uniform or costume that they proudly wear symbolizes their status in society, and the costumes that the characters are wearing seem to make up who they are as a person. For instance Fernando Rey's little peacocks of an ambassador, the soldiers and their military uniform, and Stephane Audran's wealthy hostess, all play a particular role because of the costume they wear. Even the classic sequence with the Bishop when dressed in gardener's clothes is scornfully dismissed and turned away, only to reappear again in his proper clerical garb, and is embraced with open arms and acceptance. I believe the real meaning by The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is the 'dinner' which is the central social ritual of the middle classes. Eating dinner is the main theme in the film and it's also a way of portraying good manners and displaying wealth. Maybe it was his way of emphasizing the contrast between the animalistic primary needs of eating which is a tradition we share with the most inhuman of animals and how the wealthy bourgeois ritual of eating is a way of separating the sacred and the profane and the rich and the poor. These characters are shallow, boring and snobbish and deserve all the hell that Bunuel throws at them. For instance the scene where Francois shows the party how to make a good martini and then has Don Rafael snobbishly bring in his chauffeur asking him to have a drink with them. After he drinks the martini Francois tells him to leave and then Francois says, "did you see that? That was precisely the way not to drink a dry martini." The party then says that the chauffeur is uneducated and is a commoner and that no system can give the masses the proper social graces. Bunuel focusing on dinner is the only way to make characters this bland and uninteresting interesting, because it offers the convenience of something for them to do (which is eat,) and something for them to talk about (which is the food.) That's a good thing for us as an audience because with shallow, vapid character's like this there isn't more for them to really talk about; except themselves. The subtle joke Bunuel is getting at is that behind all these meals and fake social classes are dark, buried, repressed secrets that they hope wont get brought up in any conversation. The things that happen to them and interrupt their dinner are symbolic for the decaying of the European aristocracy. Those things involve adultery, drug dealing, military coups, prejudices, denial and boredom. In someways these character's remind me of the character's in several of Michelangelo Antonioni's films. Character's who keep living but don't really live; which explains the most iconic scenes in the film which represent all of them walking silently and purposefully on a long, isolated country road toward a mysterious destination, in which I believe leads nowhere. These scenes of all of them walking illustrate the aimless and pointless nature of their empty, vapid existence. It seems like they never really will accomplish anything meaningful because they are constantly searching and are consumed with such shallow banality. Their wealthy station in life robbed them of any sense of humanity or purpose so they constantly go in search of things they think are important without ever truly finding anything.