With this brilliant 1972 comedy of manners and malice, director Luis Buñuel’s surrealism moved into a second phase. He is no longer endeavouring overtly to shock the bourgeoisie (which merely provokes outraged rejection): he is poisoning their food. The plot is a kind of cross between Dinner at Eight and An Inspector Calls, with a group of rich socialites having their dinner plans interrupted by the military, the police, terrorists and revolutionaries. The unflappable style gives an additional comic dimension to the increasingly paranoid behaviour of the bourgeoisie of the title, whose suave social masks begin to slip under the pressure of events.
In comparison with the blunt methods of Buñuel’s earlier films, Discreet Charm offers a more glittering and insinuating attack on cherished targets: the Church, the State, and bourgeois morality. It has the civilised sheen of a work like Swift’s A Modest Proposal, which is also funny, also about eating things, and also quite deadly in its inverted social attack. (Notes by Neil Sinyard.)