In Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), set in late-20th century France, soothing words of discretion still maintain among a certain class, so much so that when one Rafael Acosta (Fernando Rey), the distinguished ambassador of the South American Republic of Miranda, finds himself at a diplomatic reception where his home country is repeatedly insulted in no uncertain terms, the viewer may feel a genuine frisson of transgressive glee. Especially when Acosta’s customary poise dissolves to the point where he takes out a gun and shoots his host.
Discreet Charm is a plot reversal of Buñuel’s earlier The Exterminating Angel (1962), which featured a group of people at a dinner party who, for no apparent physical reason, found themselves unable to leave. This time our sextet of well-bred diners find themselves unable to commence. Something untoward always interrupts, like the unfortunate Acosta incident or the discovery at a restaurant that the recently deceased owner’s corpse is laid out in an adjoining room, or the sudden arrival of machine gun-toting terrorists. It’s enough to challenge one’s linguistic sangfroid.
The film is constructed as a series of vignettes, some of them dreams, dreams within dreams and people having other people’s dreams, with such Buñuelian digressions as the story of a vengeful bishop and a few shadowy nightmares to remind us of the Surrealists’ perennial appreciation of Poe.
Made when he was in his early 70s, it isn’t Buñuel’s best film — it lacks the bite and resonance of Los Olvidados (1950) or the aforementioned Angel — but it’s remarkably agile work for a septuagenarian malcontent, lightly comic and maliciously discreet.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward), Monday at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about film and music for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.