Ambassador Acosta (Rey) and three friends (Frankenur, Seyrig and Ogier) arrive at a country house for dinner, but discover that they're a day early. And rescheduling the meal proves rather complicated, as the men are secretly involved in an illicit drug deal, and hosts Alice and Henri (Audran and Cassel) would rather sneak off for sex. The interruptions to their rescheduled meal become increasingly surreal, including a tea room that runs out of tea, a group of soldiers on manoeuvres and a gang of armed thugs.
The film is packed with hilariously ridiculous touches. These privileged people have no connection with the real world, caught in a swirl of prejudices, blurred morality and private obsessions that express themselves at all the wrong times. Clever side characters include a bishop (Bertheau) who wants work as a gardener and has his powers of forgiveness sorely tested, and Alice and Henri's maid (Vukotic), who seems unflustered no matter what craziness happens next.
The whole film is wilfully absurd, and as events continue the scenes become more explicitly dreamlike. Everything stops so a young soldier (Maxence Mailfort) can recount his eerie visions, and several of the more outrageous moments end with someone waking up in shock. Some scenes feel like they take place on a stage in front of an unseen audience. Or maybe they're not quite so unseen after all. And maybe society would be better off if they weren't around.
All of this is played straight by the first-rate cast and directed with a fine sense of warped humour by Bunuel, who playfully uses camera angles and sound to torment his characters (and us). Along the way, the cracks begin to show as the actors reveal their characters' insecurities. Cleverly, even though the film feels like a collection of random scenes, there isn't a wasted moment. These people may think they have it all, but they're actually trapped in a cyclical hell.
Run time: 102 mins
In Theaters: Sunday 22nd October 1972
Distributed by: 20th Century-Fox
Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 45 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Director: Luis Bunuel
Producer: Serge Silberman
Screenwriter: Luis Bunuel, Jean-Claude Carriere
Starring: Fernando Rey as Don Rafael, Delphine Seyrig as Mme Thevenot, Paul Frankeur as M. Thevenot, Bulle Ogier as Florence, Stéphane Audran as Alice Sénéchal, Jean-Pierre Cassel as M. Sénéchal, Julien Bertheau as Monseigneur Dufour, Claude Piéplu as Le Colonel, Michel Piccoli as Le Ministre, François Maistre as Delecluze, Pierre Maguelon as Le sergent de police, Maxence Mailfort as Traum-Sergeant, Milena Vukotic as Ines, Maria Gabriella Maione as Terroristin, Muni as Bäuerin, Georges Douking as Gärtner