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Six rich dicks try to have dinner in a classic of French surrealism

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which chronicles its star’s literal growth from grade-schooler to college student, has us thinking back on other ambitious narrative experiments.

The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie (1972)

Named the best film of 1972 by the National Society Of Film Critics, as well as the winner of 1973’s Best Foreign Film Oscar, The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie remains a masterpiece of 20th-century cinema thanks to the unique power and enduring relevance of its surreal social critique. Luis Buñuel’s classic is anything but conventionally plotted, circumventing a straightforward narrative with a series of seemingly chronological episodes in which six upper-middle-class people attempt to sit down for a dinner together, only to find their efforts constantly thwarted by all manner of interruptions. Those include the hosts’ desire to have sex in the garden, the discovery of a restaurant owner’s corpse, the sudden arrival of the military, and, most famously, the realization that they are, in fact, actors on a stage—a cause of anxiety for Henri (Jean-Pierre Cassel), who gasps, “I don’t know my lines!”


Those are merely a few of the many incidents that Buñuel stages with a wry playfulness aimed at ridiculing the hypocritical pretentions of the well-to-do, who prance around like cocks of the walk and yet are revealed to be drunks, drug dealers, and, in the case of a priest intent on working as a gardener, foolish phonies. At the center of it all is Fernando Rey’s haughty ambassador, describing his South American country’s infamous Nazi resident as a “gentleman,” and so consumed by his own appetites that he can’t stop himself from trying to grab meat off the table he’s hiding under when gunmen arrive to murder everyone. Buñuel s characters are defined by their ignorance, boorishness, and animalist urges, though the director’s censure is delivered not with righteous fury but with a mixture of detached fascination and disdain. Contained within a tale of random occurrences and ridiculous dreams-within-dreams, these wealthy people are ultimately presented as prisoners, both of the absurdist world they occupy and the noxious worldviews they embrace.

Availability: The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie is available on Criterion DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix, and to rent or purchase through the major digital services.

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