The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie ★★★

Part of my 5 Directors x 5 Unseen Films (7) challenge.

If one of the most hackneyed resolutions for a disjointed film sequence is "then she woke up," what can you say about a film that uses this ploy over and over and over in the course of less than two hours? And I don't care that it's the master of surrealism, writer-director Luis Buñuel, who is waking up these characters from their nightmares. It's a cheap trick that's not made any richer by repetition.

There are six characters central to this story. Key among them is Don Rafael Acosta (Frenando Rey), the Ambassador to France from the South American nation of Miranda. Rafael smuggles drugs in his diplomatic pouch. Rafael is having an affair with Simone Thévenot (Delphine Seyrig), the wife of his good friend and partner in crime M. Thévenot (Paul Frankeur). Rafael is exceedingly aloof as he sips champagne and defends the circumstances of his corrupt homeland. In short, Rafael is a bourgeoisie cad.

Joining Rafael and the Thévenots in most scenes is Simone's tag-along younger sister Florence (Bulle Ogier). The foursome travels by limousine to the country chateau of Henri and Alice Sénéchal (Jean-Pierre Cassel & Stéphane Audran) for a meal that never gets eaten. Something always occurs to interrupt the repast, from a misunderstanding about the date to the arrival of soldiers on maneuvers to the police arresting all the guests to a home invasion by machine gun-toting members of a drug cartel.

But it could all be a dream, you know, as could interspersed episodes involving a Catholic Bishop named Dufour (Julien Bertheau) who goes to work for the Sénéchals as their gardener. There are also repeated dreamlike scenes of the six main characters walking along a country road. Buñuel teases his characters, as well as his audience, like leading a donkey with a carrot on a stick, all the while poking fun at the petty nature of polite society, from religion and politics to manners, appetites and fashion. Laid bare is their hypocrisy and corruption.

Somehow, this absurdist production won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, while gaining a nomination for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay. It won Best Screenplay at the BAFTAs plus Best Actress for Audran, and the Golden Globes had it nominated for Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film. So I guess I'm kind of on my own here when I say I felt deceived and abused after watching this. Score one for the crazy Spaniard, but to date it's my least favorite Buñuel.

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