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The Criterion Collection presents
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie) (1972)

"Are you free for lunch Saturday?"
- Henri Sénéchal (Jean-Pierre Cassel)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: December 19, 2000

Stars: Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Bulle Ogier, Stéphane Audran, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Michel Piccoli
Other Stars: Julien Bertheau, Milena Vukotic, Maria Gabriella Maione, Claude Piéplu, Muni, Pierre Maguelon, François Maistre
Director: Luis Buñuel

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Nudity, language [supplements])
Run Time: 01h:41m:35s
Release Date: December 19, 2000
UPC: 037429154625
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Like many of the directors I have been exposed to through the Criterion Collection, up until viewing Luis Buñuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie) for this review, his work was pretty much unknown to me. Although I have seen his earlier Belle De Jour, there is still a lot of his work I have yet to discover, and despite my wish to produce a review expediently, Buñuel is not the kind of director one can sit down and analyse at first pass: his style and subject matter have a unique, surreal and sometimes absurd quality about them, which is perhaps why he is so revered by film enthusiasts.

The premise of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie seems simple enough at first: six people trying to make arrangements for a dinner get together. However, this description would be akin to saying that Buñuel's friend and collaborator Salvador Dali painted pictures of watches—what is missing is the twisted way the subject matter is presented. We are thrown off kilter immediately, as the first intended rendezvous is thwarted when the guests, Rafael Acosta (frequent Buñuel cast member Fernando Rey as the Ambassador to the country of Miranda), Simone Thevenot, her husband François (Delphine Seyrig and Paul Frankeur) and her sister Florence (Bulle Ogier), arrive in their chauffer-driven limousine a day early. Alice Sénéchal (Stephane Audran), the hostess, explains that there has been a mistake, as her husband is at another dinner engagement, which is countered by Rafael's insistence that would be absurd, as he has other commitments for the following evening, so could not possibly attend. As the hour is late, François Thevenot invites the foursome out to a local restaurant, which has its doors locked when they arrive, though they are finally ushered in, only to discover that the place is empty and under new management. After commenting on the menu selections being cheap, and questioning the quality of their caviar, the group also learns that the recently deceased owner is lying in state in the adjoining room. They of course decide to leave without eating, and arrange for another engagement at the Sénéchal's the following weekend. When we finally meet Alice Sénéchal's husband Henri (Jean-Pierre Cassel), he, François and Raphael are gathered at the Mirandan embassy, where we discover that the ambassador is also a cocaine smuggler, and Sénéchal and Thevenot are his customers. So much for higher morals to match their social stature.

When their guests arrive for their second get together, the Sénéchal's are deeply impassioned in their bedroom, though fearing being overheard as they complete their afternoon tryst, the two sneak out to the garden, though not without being witnessed by the servant girl (Milena Vukotic as Ines), who informs the guests that their hosts have just departed. Assuming something drastic is about to occur, the guests leave hurriedly, and as they do, another character enters the picture, the local Bishop (Michel Piccoli), who upon hearing of the recent firing of the Sénéchal's garden keeper, has decided to apply for the position. Returning to the house expecting their guests to be waiting, the Sénéchals, still dishevelled from their garden romp, instead find the Bishop, now garbed in the gardener's clothes, and promptly throw him out of the house, though in true hypocritic style, welcome him apologetically when he returns in his church attire.

If the above seems at all odd, it is nothing compared to what happens later, as more plans for a meal are made, with increasingly bizarre circumstances coming to play as things progress.

The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie earned the director Oscar® for best foreign film, and was one of only two of his thirty-three directorial efforts to be recognized by the academy. Throughout the film Buñuel pokes fun at the upper class, from their pompous attitude towards the lower class, to their fixation on flaunting their superior taste and knowledge of fine foods and culture, a knowledge that often times is merely for show, as evidenced by Raphael's use of afictitious subject as a ruse for dismissing François while trying tomask the affair he is having with his wife Simone, knowing François would never admit he wasn't aware of a subject. Also evidenced is theunderlying character behind the aristocratic facade, the lust, thegreed, the corruption and deception, which manifest themselves in themany sequences witnessed in the film. First time viewers can expect the unexpected, since very little in the film is actually what it appears tobe, and don't be surprised if you find yourself wondering what actually happened as the credits roll. While some may try to explain everything with complex and deep interpretations, I'm not so sure that Buñuel isn't simply having fun with his audience, using the film medium as a way of distorting reality in a way only film can.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: To commemorate the director's 100th birthday (Buñuel died in 1983), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgouisie was given a theatrical re-release, and this anamorphic transfer is from the newly struck 35mm interpositive from the original negative. The source is near flawless, with fine grain well represented. Colors are not overly vibrant, but the presentation is exceptional, aside from the subtitles, which have frequent spelling errors (in the feature and supplements) which prove distracting.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The French mono soundtrack is clean and free from any audible artifacts, aside from some location background noise. Completely suitable for the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Buñuel, El Náufrago de la calle de Providencia (The Castaway on the Street of Providence) 24-minute documentary (1970)
  2. A propósito de Buñuel (Speaking of Buñuel) 98-minute documentary (2000)
Extras Review: This two-disc set features a pair of insightful supplements, which while not overwhelming in their number, are well chosen and certainly give depth and understanding to the man behind the film.

Aside from the feature and a theatrical trailer, the first disc features a 24-minute, 1970 documentary on Buñuel, El Náufrago de la calle de Providencia (The Castaway on the Street of Providence), which is a series of home movies and interviews with director's friends and associates, assembled by his friends Arturo Ripstein and Rafael Castanedo. Here we have candid insight into the director, with clips from his home as he entertains his guests by concocting various cocktails, one of his favorite activities.

Disc two contains the recent 98-minute documentary by Jose Luis López-Linares and Javier Rioyo, A propósito de Buñuel (Speaking of Buñuel). Gathered here is a portrait of the man as told through the eyes of Buñuel's friends, collaborators, family and cast members, intercut with scenes spanning the seven decades he produced films, from his first short collaboration with Salvador Dali, the infamous Un chien andalou (The Andulsuian Dog) in 1929, through to his final film, Cet obscur objet du désir (That Obscure Object of Desire) in 1977. This encompasses the life of the man from his childhood in Spain, through his early career in France, to his exile in Mexico and finally his return to Spain, and gives insights into his personality, lifestyle and work, which are underscored by narrative and filmed documentary from Buñuel himself. A fascinating introduction to the life of a director who always liked to color outside the lines of traditional film. A Buñuel filmography is also included.

The insert features an essay on Buñuel plus his own recipe for the perfect martini.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

While I certainly wouldn't suggest The Discreet Charm of the Bourgouisie as a film for everyone, for those who can appreciate it, Criterion has assembled another first rate disc. Viewers may find the film either pretentious and boring or brilliant and engaging, with its caustic, yet subdued humor. Either way its presentation here certainly warrants a visit, and for art house fans this will be a prize for the collection. The two documentaries cover Buñuel and his career from many angles, and offer the first timer a great insight into this gentleman's life and work.


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