After a martini is meticulously prepared, the chauffeur is invited in. He graciously accepts the drink that he had been offered, and swallows it in a single swig. His job completed, he is dismissed back to the automobile.
“Now that," says Don Rafael, after the chauffeur has left, "is how not to drink a martini.”
Released in 1972, Luis Buñuel directed the French film Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) when he was 72 years old. He wrote The Discreet Charm with his good friend and partner in screen-writing, Jean-Claude Carriere. He was in a fortunate financial situation, where he could make whatever the hell he wanted, and it paid off, as this is his most successful film. Buñuel was neither mocking his superiors nor his inferiors in this film, but rather the social class that he practically belonged to himself, being a successful filmmaker. In fact, the delicate recipe for a martini given in the film is Bunuel’s own.
It begins with a mis-scheduled dinner invitation. We find that neither side could have possibly mis-scheduled this date, yet the date was mis-scheduled, and the invitees came a day early (or the inviters were preparing for the wrong day, depending on how you look at it). Instead, they decide to go out to eat, as one of them knows a good place to find a bite. They arrive to discover that the owner has died, and they don't have the heart to dine in such a gloomy locale.
It goes on in this way, as the group of upper middle class friends is always prevented from actually eating a meal together. Their private lives of drug smuggling, government corruption and adultery aren’t great conversation topics, and without the safe haven of a meal, the friends have little to discuss.
Buñuel takes a break in order to play with one of his favorite toys: religion. A man dressed in plain clothing, claiming to be a bishop is invited in by the servant, but kicked out of the house by the bourgeoisie owners. Only when he returns in the traditional garb, is he welcomed in. The only difference between The Pope and a street bum is the hat.
What's real? Who cares? The movie occasionally escapes tricky situations with the classic “It was all just a dream”. The plot isn't meant to be analyzed to death, as that wouldn't get you anywhere. Although Buñuel gives us some surrealism, he avoids turning this movie into an Un Chien Andalou (after all, that was 43 years prior). After a while you begin to realize that the unrealistic moments in the movie are no more absurd than the realistic moments.
The title of the film is ultimately appropriate. The characters are charming, but not in the sophisticated way they’d like to be. They’re charming like naïve 5-year-olds. Which is still quite charming.
Won: Best Foreign Language Film
Nominated: Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based On Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published or Produced>
Golden Globe Awards:
Nominated: Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film
National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA
Won: Best Director
Won: Best Film
Director: Luis Buñuel
Producer: Serge Silberman
Cinematographer: Edmond Richard
Editor: Hélène Plemiannikov
Script: Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière