Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie

Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie

“The best explanation of this film is that, from the standpoint of pure reason, there is no explanation.”

Luis Buñuel1


“Two smart couples arrive at their friends’ home for a dinner party and find they’ve called on the wrong night. Nothing’s ready. They repair to a restaurant but there’s too much ready, the owner’s corpse lying on a back table. A third try at civilised conviviality goes awry when the hosts slip out onto their lawn for a quick preprandial screw. A small circle of friends find the food is all stage-props; when a curtain goes up they don’t know their lines... Patterns of dream-cut-dream are complicated by uninvited guests; the guerrillas spying on the ambassador, the police commissioner suspecting his sideline in cocaine, the worker-bishop seeking a job as a gardener. The theme of meals provokes thoughts of cultivation (gardens, opium, a farm), and violence steadily mounts until the film’s last supper, where gangsters burst in with blazing machine-guns and the amhassador’s hand betrays his hiding-place by reaching for a leg of lamb.

No synopsis can do the film justice. But every twist and turn which, in outline and isolation, must sound contrived, even facile, feels natural, even necessary, when flanked by everything which is shallow and arbitrary in everyday sociability. Angels deals with thoughts that decay, and its brief liberations are the phosphoresence of that decay. Charm deals with thoughts that fail to change, that never become animal and organic. Angel includes invasions by animals rubber chickens and a stone commander. The first (but not the only) principle of Charm is the invasion of social reality by the vagueness and confusion of social roles (the bishop is a gardener and a worker; and a dutiful and therefore a revengeful man...). But the moment the confusion begins to bite, the dreamer wakes. What The Milky Way is to religious faith, Charm is to social faith – as oblique and insidious.”

Raymond Durgnat2


“According to Buñuel, the ideal life consisted of waking for two hours and sleeping and dreaming for the remaining 22. He often began a film by establishing a framework of latent, rather than explicit, associations that came from his subconscious, eliminating anything that might have obvious symbolic meaning. He drew deeply from the dream life in order to confront spectators with the frightening disorder that lurked in the abyss of their minds. But dreams were also considered to be a part of everyday life, so the dividing line between the realms of the conscious and unconscious was abolished. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie uses the Chinese box-like technique of dreams embedded within dreams to exemplify this. Towards the end, overlapping dreams of the characters that grow out of seemingly real situations take us from one deceptive trip to another. As the dreamer wakes up, further peculiar things happen until the bizarre reality we began to believe in is rendered totally indistinguishable from the realm of dream.”

Melissa Acker3


“I am against conventional morality [...] Morality – middle-class morality, that is – is for me immoral. One must fight it. It is a morality founded on our most unjust social institutions – religion, fatherland, family culture – everything that people call the pillars of society.”

Luis Buñuel4


“Hij laat in zijn films het kapitaal, de religie en de kleinburgerlijkheid hun excessen botvieren, terwijl het juist deze dingen zijn die volgens Buñuel de vrijheid van het denken beknotten. De doorgedreven etiquette zorgt voor een hoogst immorele situatie; de hoge cultuur wordt barbarij. De geheime dromen van het individu zijn een voorbode voor het lot van de massa terwijl de banale realiteit een onbereikbaar waanbeeld lijkt.”

Nina de Vroome5


“My ideas have not changed since I was 20. Basically, I agree with Engels: an artist describes real social relationships with the purpose of destroying the conventional ideas about those relationships, undermining bourgeois optimism, and forcing the public to doubt the tenets of the established order. The final sense of my films is this: to repeat, over and over again, in case anyone forgets it or believes the contrary, that we do not live in the best of all possible worlds.”

Luis Buñuel6


“Luis Buñuel's 1972 comic masterpiece, about three well-to-do couples who try and fail to have a meal together, is perhaps the most perfectly achieved and executed of all his late French films. The film proceeds by diverse interruptions, digressions, and interpolations (including dreams and tales within tales) that, interestingly enough, identify the characters, their class, and their seeming indestructibility with narrative itself. One of the things that makes this film as charming as it is, despite its radicalism, and helped Buñuel win his only Oscar is the perfect cast, many of whom bring along nearly mythic associations acquired in previous French films. Frightening, funny, profound, and mysterious.”

Jonathan Rosenbaum7


“There is something akin to the parodistic work of the young Brian De Palma going on here, with European finesse instead of American trash-pop energy. De Palma's early horror films worked on an audience's vulnerability. Buquel takes aim at our susceptibility, our predilection for ghost stories and melodramas. And like De Palma, Buquel rubs some people the wrong way.”

Charles Taylor8

  • 1Preface to El ángel exterminador [The Exterminating Angel] (Luis Buñuel, 1962).
  • 2Raymond Durgnat, Luis Buñuel, (University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1977).
  • 3Melissa Acker, ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,’ Senses of Cinema, December 2013.
  • 4Luis Buñuel cited in Donald Richie, ‘The Moral Code of Luis Buñuel’, in The World of Luis Buñuel. Essays in Criticism, edited by Joan Mellen (Oxford University Press Inc: Oxford, 1979), 111.
  • 5Nina de Vroome, ‘El ángel exterminador,’ Sabzian, 6 september 2015.
  • 6 cited in Carlos Fuentes, ‘The Discreet Charm of Luis Buñuel’, in The World of Luis Buñuel: Essays in Criticism, edited by Joan Mellen (Oxford University Press Inc: Oxford, 1979), 62–4.
  • 7Jonathan Rosenbaum, ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,Chicago Reader.
  • 8Charles Taylor, ‘“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”,’ Salon, 16 May 2000.
UPDATED ON 27.06.2018