Oscar Blindspots: Butterflies are Free/The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

It might be 50 years late, but I’ll be catching up on all the Oscar nominees and winners I have missed from the year 1972 through the month of May

This pair of Oscar winners have very different legacies. One is an underseen gem of a farcical Spanish filmmaker. The other is an intimate comedy with surprising ideas on disability.

Butterflies are Free
Directed by Milton Katselas

Don Baker (Edward Albert) was born blind. Living on his own for the first time, he seems to be doing pretty well. Free-spirit Jill Tanner (Goldie Hawn) moves in next door. Soon, the two become involved romantically, only to be found by Don’s hovering mother (Eileen Heckart, in her Oscar-winning role). Believing her son is not ready for the world, Mrs. Baker attempts to convince Don to move back home while Jill wants him to stay. Don just wants to be free, like the butterflies.

While all the actors are charming and do great work, the script is trying far too hard to be Neil Simon without having any of the necessary intelligence. Many modern stage adaptations get called “too stagey,” and this one is no exception. The film focuses on Don’s world opening up, but the film keeps it mostly contained to one apartment.

Hawn lives the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” well before it came into vogue, but she is so adorable, it’s hard to fault her. Albert exudes confidence despite the role being his film debut. His (understandably) blasé attitude towards his blindness is a welcome deviation from usual depictions of disability. Heckhart gets to play the straight man around all the chaos, but she comes in and leaves quite the impression. Her character could have gone in a much more unlikeable place, but she grounds her disapproval in an obvious love for her son.

I enjoyed myself. But, I can’t say it inspired any passion. But, there are worse ways to spend 109 minutes.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Directed by Luis Buñuel

A married couple Francois (Paul Frankeur) and Simone (Delphine Seyrig) attempt a series of dinner parties with fellow couple Alice (Stephanie Audran) and Henri (Jean-Pierre Cassel), Simone’s sister Florence (Bulle Ogier), and South American ambassador Rafael (Fernando Rey). Each attempt at dinner ends in disaster, failure, or was actually a dream sequence.

None of these characters are inherently likeable, and they continually do things that make them more deplorable. Infidelity, drug deals, corruption, and general rudeness rule the day. But, the increasing absurdities only make things more interesting. There is plenty of political commentary in knocking these people down a peg.

Buñuel treats it all very seriously, despite the insanity of what takes place on screen. When a group of soldiers unexpectantly arrive to one of the parties, it’s par for the course. When one soldier stands up to tell the group a dream he had, the tone has already been established. No one on screen is laughing, but it’s all hilarious.

More than anything, I wasn’t expecting much out of this film and I found it hilarious and ridiculous. It’s a film that celebrates how ridiculous the upper-class can be.

Next week: I’ll knock out all the other films I haven’t touched on from 1972

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