Won’t someone just let them eat cake?
The Film: Luis Buñuel’s surrealist satire of middle-class manners
The Potable: A series of old fashioneds and a plate of wings
Ah, the fast-eroding art of dining. While food plays an obvious role, the most important factor in any meal is the fellowship. A good host provides the atmosphere, and a good companion comes prepared with anecdotes. My dear fellow, how goes your labor? Sweet heavens, what’s become of the lumber industry? Good God, what was I thinking with these socks? Feel free to tease me.
Still, the food. We mustn’t overlook the food. The culinary masterwork required to prepare a plate of blanquette de veau, to properly stew a pot of soupe à l’oignon. Have we all forgotten how to make boudin noir aux pommes? The overarching joke in Discreet Charm is that a group of yuppies never get a chance to sit down and dine, continuously interrupted as they are by increasingly absurd distractions. Personally? I sat down to watch this film with a cocktail and a plate of BBQ wings, and I highly recommend this Jim’s Own Smokey poultry rub because it puts butts in the seats.
So let’s take a look at the food Buñuel’s characters are working with.
One meal appears fairly typical. An entrée with one side, bread, water, and red wine. But the entrée, some sort of indiscernible ham, looks blandly prepared, poorly presented at best. I assume the side – a nebulous mound of green – to be lima beans, though there is little to suggest they were not poured from a can. A Sandra Lee recipe, perhaps. Overly salted to mask the staleness, so who could blame the diners for hiding beneath the table? The wine looks three shades pale of a port.
Another scene involves a gentleman explaining how to make his perfect pre-dinner cocktail. “Dry martinis for everyone,” he says, and goes on to explain that the best glass is “cone-shaped” and that he learned this from a woman’s magazine. This is, of course, inherently wrong, the ideal glass for any cocktail being a coffee mug. He goes on to suggest that the most important ingredient is the ice, which is also wrong, since everyone knows the most important component of a martini is the tequila.
“I almost didn’t make the soup tonight,” the hostess suggests during a third gathering. “And then I thought that a meal without soup, is it really a meal?”
But what kind? It’s difficult to say, as Buñuel never offers a direct shot of the dish, but a little detective work and elbow grease found a single frame in which the soup is faintly visible in the lower left corner, bearing a yellowish color. Butternut squash, perhaps? I hope not. Given the foliage and blooming gardens in earlier scenes, Discreet Charm appears to be set during spring or early summer. Butternut squash is a wintertime gourd, naturally, and I certainly hope that no kitchen of means would serve out-of-season produce. What other possibilities? Yellow pea soup, maybe, though that dish is really more Québécoise than Old World French. Of course, there’s always the possibility that I’m wrong, that the soup is not yellow but green. Leek and lima bean, in which case I have little faith these legumes are any fresher than the earlier batch.
Some stray observations. For a film ostensibly concerned with “dining,” must the verb be so dependent on the noun “dinner”? I can think of few meals more bougie than brunch, but there isn’t a waffle in sight. I enjoy a fruit cup, which would be a nice break from all of the sodium. Still, despite the film’s gastronomical flaws, the lighting seems mostly consistent.
As for the film’s ending, what happened to our unhappy diners, I cannot confidently say. I evidently struggled to make it through, my fiance claiming she found me passed out at 1:00 AM with my feet resting on a plate of baked beans and chicken bones – wearing my Yoda Christmas conversation socks, no less. And they worked! We had a long talk about the current state of our kitchen.
Verdict: zero Michelin stars