The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Released:  1972

Cast:  Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Stephane Audran, Bulle Ogier, Jean-Pierre Cassel

Oscar Wins:  Best Foreign Language Film (France)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Screenplay (Luis Bunuel, Jean-Claude Carriere)

SUMMARY:  A group of six friends — Ambassador of Miranda (fictional country) Rafael Acosta (Fernando Rey), Francois (Paul Frankeur) and Simone Thevenot (Delphine Seyrig), Simone’s sister Florence (Bulle Ogier), and Henri (Jean-Pierre Cassel) and Alice Senechal (Stephane Audran) — are due to meet for dinner one evening at the home of the Senechals.  However, when they arrive they learn that there has been a misunderstanding, and the Senechals are not prepared to serve them dinner.  The group decides to go to a nearby restaurant to eat, joined by Alice.  A staff member tells them that the restaurant is under new management.  To their astonishment, the group finds that this is because the old manager has died — and the staff is keeping his body in a side room until the coroner arrives.  The ladies of the group decide that they cannot handle this, and the group leaves.  The next day, Henri and Francois visit Rafael to discuss a large cocaine deal.  It is during this time that they learn that a terrorist group from Miranda is trying to assassinate Rafael.  A few days later, the group again visits the Senechals for lunch, but Henri and Alice are having a romantic moment when their friends arrive.  When they don’t show up, the others decide that their cocaine trafficking must have been discovered, and the Senechals have fled.  They too hurriedly leave the house.

When the Senechals come back inside, they find that a bishop has arrived, and wants to work as their gardener.  They agree, but continue to observe his social standing as a bishop.  The bishop tells them that his parents died of arsenic poisoning when he was young.  Sometime later, the three women go together to a tea house in town, only to find that the restaurant is out of tea — and coffee, herbal tea, and milk.  Another dinner party is attempted, but again thwarted by the early arrival of a group of soldiers Henri had agreed to house while they practice maneuvers.  The various characters begin to have dreams, usually involving one or more of them being killed violently.  The bishop is summoned to give last rites to a dying man, only to learn that the man is his parents’ killer.  The bishop offers the last rights, then shoots the man.  A violent end does eventually come to the group of friends.  Early in a dinner party, a group of guerillas bursts in, brandishing weapons, and demands that everybody stand up.  Rafael manages to hide under the table, but the others are lined up and shot.  Rafael is discovered when he reaches for a piece of meat off the table.  The film ends with a continuation of a repeated scene in the film, where the six characters are walking down a country road.

MY TAKE:  I can’t say that I really understood the point of this film, but I’ve seen a lot worse.  There actually were some amusing parts, like when Rafael is trying to escape from a party in which absolutely everybody is insulting his country.  It’s also mildly amusing that the poor people never manage to eat.  I do wish that there had been a stronger, more cohesive story; this felt like a collection of vignettes, with some weird moments thrown in.  Had the aborted dinners been more of the focus of the film, I think I would have liked it more.  Instead, we get these weird dreams and terrorists that distract.  However, I feel like I actually understood the majority of what was happening, and given some of the movies I’ve seen recently, this is refreshing.  I wouldn’t watch it again, though.

RATING:  Skip it.


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