||Belle de Jour
1967 - R - 101 Mins.
|Director: Luis Bunuel|
|Producer: Raymond and Robert Hakim|
|Written By: Luis Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere|
|Starring: Catherine Deneuve,
Pierre Clementi |
|Review by: Carl Langley
“Belle de Jour” which means “woman of the day” in French, is considered to be one of the best exotic films of modern times, if not all time. Here is a little history about the film: it was directed by Luis Bunuel (1900-1983), one of the most respected foreign film directors. It was released in 1967 and then re-released in the United States in 1995 on a sparse amount of screens. Before it was re-released, the film had been unseen for a couple decades because the producers were unwilling to release it into theaters or on video. But with acclaimed directors (such as Martin Scorsese, who presents the film) praising Bunuel’s direction and Miramax purchasing the rights, the polemical film hit theaters again and gave the present generation a true taste of eroticism.
A true taste of eroticism in the sense that it does not bare too much vulgarity in its nudity and sexual intercourse. In fact, even though its main character, Severine, is a prostitute and we witness several confrontations with her clients, the act of copulation is never shown, only suggested. The nudity is discrete, as at most we see Severine’s bare bottom through a black, thin robe. This is a rare occurrence, as most films today disappointingly show a couple making love or bare breasts to accumulate an accurate feeling of love. The fact that it was created in the late sixties may have helped its vulgar shadow, but I believe that if Bunuel made the same film today, nothing would change.
“Belle de Jour” is not just about explicit sex, instead its about a woman leading a double life, prostitute by day and housewife by night. Severine (Catherine Deneuve) is married to a wealthy, good-looking doctor, Pierre (Jean Sorel). Even though she loves Pierre dearly, she can never bring herself to be physically intimate with him. To conciliate, Severine indulges herself in erotic and often strange fantasies.
Severine is eventually led to a brothel where Madame Anais (Genevieve Page) lives and heads a couple harlots. These scenes spark the film’s best acting from Deneuve, as she is hesitant about whether to further her sexual desires. Her facial expressions and reactions in certain situations exemplify the sense of awkwardness, seduction, and revulsion. Deneuve does a tremendous job transferring from being reserved to having a demure presence. Meanwhile, a friend of the family (Michel Piccoli) tries arduously to seduce Severine, until he discovers her immorality. There is also Marcel (Pierre Clementi), who becomes obsessed with Severine and has a lot to do with the film’s ending.
Throughout its entirety, “Belle de Jour” features fantasies that allow us to be inserted in the mind of Severine and undeniably understand how she perceives each situation. These erotic illusions develop over the course of the film, first beginning with her fantasies of her husband’s simple dislike for her to the final dream where he totally forgives her for everything that she has done. The editing for these scenes creates a sort of flash forward, or flash backward feeling to them. There are bells ringing and cat’s meows on the soundtrack to help us locate her fantasies (the subtitles are italicized as well). For example, the very first scene we see of Severine in the carriage with her husband looks to be very true to life. There are shots of her being dragged through the leaves as if she were actually being pulled along in reality. It is not until we hear Pierre’s voice sympathetically ask her if she is all right, and her response about her having the dream again that we understand nothing happened. Up until this point we assumed that Bunuel was taking advantage of his ability to flashback or flash-forward.
Probably the greatest aspect of “Belle de Jour” is the choice of ending it gives the viewer. A good amount of discussion can be indulged after watching Bunuel’s controversial film. I will not give the ending away, of course, but watch this film and make up your own mind. I was given good advice after watching “Belle de Jour” for the first time – I was told to watch it again and pick up on different motifs in the movie. The film became more panoramic and I appreciated it more on my second helping.