To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Luis Bunuel’s multi-award winning surreal comedy, Studiocanal have just released THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE in a brand-new 4K restoration on Blu-ray and UHD. The main plot revolves around a group of bourgeois friends whose plans to dine together are scuppered by impossible scenarios - with the first half of the film concentrating on the get-togethers whereas the second half dominantly displays dream sequences connected to the previous happenings.

Francois and Simone Thévenot (Paul Frankeur and Delphine Seyrig respectively) are on their way to a dinner held by their friends Henri and Alice Sénéchal (Jean-Pierre Cassel and Stéphane Audran respectively). Simone’s younger sister Florence (Bulle Ogier) and Don Rafael Acosta (Fernando Rey), a work colleague of Francois, are also among the invited dinner guests. While it would be fair to describe both the Thévenots and the Sénéchals as bourgeois snobs who walk through life with a constant air of entitlement and arrogance brought on by their status, Don Rafael is the corrupt and right-wing ambassador of the fictitious state of Miranda ‘somewhere in South America’.

When the group arrive at the Sénéchal household they are warmly greeted by Alice, who seems confused as she was certain her husband had invited the friends over on the following day. In order to make the best of the debacle the Thévenots suggest they all dine in a restaurant recommend by Francois but when they arrive the place is closed… bewildered, Francois knocks on the door and all are eventually let in by a waitress who explains that they are under new management, to which Alice remarks an empty restaurant is never a good sign. As they discuss what they should have for dinner the ladies hear wailing coming from an adjoining room – on inspection they find the body of the manager in his coffin (he died of a sudden heart attack), with his wife sitting next to him and crying while the staff wait for the undertaker to arrive. Disgusted and shocked, the group of friends leave without eating.

Further attempts of dining together don’t fare much better, for example, when the Thévenots arrive a few days later the Sénéchals instruct their maid Inés (Milena Vukotic) to inform the guests that their hosts will be with them “in five minutes” – actual reason for the delay is that Henri and Alice feel the sudden urge to indulge in some afternoon sex. When they are eventually finished, Inés tells them that their friends got fed up waiting and left, however, someone else has arrived instead: Monsignor Dufour (Julien Bertheau), the local Bishop who informs the couple that he is a ‘working bishop’ who wishes to apply for the post of the Sénéchals’ gardener after the previous one got fired. Henri, initially going by the assumption the Bishop is an imposter, kicks him out but when Monsignor returns in his clergyman outfit he’s promptly installed as the gardener although Alice remarks the previous gardener didn’t get paid Union wages.

As the story goes on (interspersed by scenes of the Thévenots, the Sénéchals and Don Rafael walking along a country lane, which is also the closing shot), the scenarios get ever more surreal: Don Rafael is stalked by a female Maoist terrorist (Maria Gabriella Maione) from Miranda whose attempts to assassinate him fail. Simone, Florence and Alice meet in a teahouse only to be informed by the waiter that the establishment has run out of tea… of coffee… in fact of everything except water – whilst a complete stranger (a soldier) introduces himself to the women and begins to tell his story (surreal of course) of murdering his stepfather. Another subplot exposes Don Rafael as a cocaine peddler and Francois and Henri are also involved - this leads to later scenarios in which the friends dinners and lunches are interrupted (once again) first by the arrival of some army officers who hold military maneuvers close to the Sénéchal household, later on by police who arrest everyone on suspicion of drug trafficking, and later still in one of the many dream sequences during which the Sénéchals and the Thévenots are gunned down while Don Rafael is hiding under the dining table chewing away on his piece of lamb. In other surreal dream sequences we witness the various characters in bizarre situations such as during a dinner which then turns out to be the stage of a theatre (with the audience booing as the ‘actors’ don’t know their lines), or Monsignor Dufour giving a dying man his last rites – only to learn that he is the very man who had poisoned his parents when Monsignor was still a child who he then shoots with a rifle after giving him his blessings.

As bonkers as the film’s entire scenario appears to be, there’s always method in Bunuels’ madness and one gets a sense of the morally bankrupt upper classes with all their snobbery, for example, in one poignant scene Francois Thévenot demonstrates to his friends how to makes the perfect dry martini, adding it should be sipped rather than drunk. He then asks his chauffeur into the house and offers him a glass of dry martini… which the chauffeur knocks back in one gulp and by doing so proves Francois’ theory that the ‘uneducated working classes’ can never improve no matter what. There are also hints that the state of Miranda is in fact not much more than a dictatorship – something which Don Rafael vehemently denies, naturally.

This ensemble piece hasn’t lost an ounce of its observant wit and vitriol and remains as potent as ever, with terrific performances by all the cast and a bold screenplay by Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriére. Make of the film what you will (which is precisely what Bunuel had intended) but one thing is for certain: there’s a slice of bourgeoisie in all of us!

Bonus Material includes New Analysis of three scenes of the film with critic Charles Tesson, New Critical Analysis of Charles Tesson, New Interview with writer Jean-Claude Carrière plus Trailers.