Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie

(The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, France/Italy/Spain, 1972)

The films of Luis Buñuel are not meant to be understood, he made that clear in his very first one, the seminal masterpiece Un chien andalou (1929), which he scripted and directed with Salvador Dali. The criterion there was that any time anything at all in the “story” started to make any sense, they would immediately cut it out and go off in a random direction. Despite that, critics who demand symbolism have studied An Andalusian Dog endlessly. What’s the point? There’s no Andalusian in the movie, and if there was a dog, I missed it. That was the point.

More than 50 years later, it’s still the point in this movie. There’s nothing discreet about it, but much that is charming. Perhaps it is about the bourgeoisie—there are many places where one could see biting satire about the upper middle class, the church, the military, just about any target you want to name—but that all seems too easy to me. The “charm” of this film is in its ability to delight me for no specific reason I could name. In the delightful way Buñuel pulls the rug out from under me not once, not twice, but a dozen times. In the nonsensical behavior of everyone involved. As in Dinner at Eight, these people spend a lot of time getting ready to eat, but never get a bite. Deep philosophical meaning in that? Oh, well, maybe so. Maybe it’s an existential absurdist version of “food movies,” like Babette’s Feast or Tampopo or Chocolat. Only people are eating off empty plates. And with that deep thought I will leave you, as I’m late I’m late I’m late I’m late for a tennis match with David Hemmings over at Mike Antonioni’s house.

Trivia: The beautiful Stephane Audran was 40 when she played Alice Senechal in this film. She was 55 when she played Babette in Babette’s Feast, and in my memory at least, she doesn’t appear to be a day older. How odd that I’d think of that film, when I didn’t recognize her while watching this one. Must have been my subconscious at work.