Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Luis Buñuel & Jean-Claude Carrière, based on the novel by Joseph Kessel
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Geneviève Page, Michel Piccoli
- Feature Commentary by Buñuel scholar Julie Jones
- Original 1967 U.S. theatrical trailer and 1995 re-release trailer
My Advice: Rent it.
Séverine (Deneuve) has everything a young middle class woman is supposed to want. She has a handsome, caring doctor for a husband named Pierre (Sorel), a beautiful home, and plenty of fashionable clothing. But she is not happy. Her bland spouse treats her like a child, so she indulges in dark brutal fantasies filled with guilt, passion, and pain. The sophisticated flirting of Pierre’s friend, Husson (Piccoli) irritates Séverine and is swiftly blocked. She is looking for something more forceful and degrading. This brings her to the discreet brothel of Madame Anais (Page). Under a pseudonym, Belle de Jour, she finds satisfaction in the world’s oldest profession and in the men who use her. But when her two lives collide, can she face reality or surrender to her dreams.
It’s would be simple to dismiss Séverine as a bored housewife who indulges in some risky, sleazy behavior for kicks. Belle de Jour is not simple. Director Buñuel knows that what motivates people can only be guessed at, even by those acting on those motivations. So he doesn’t hand over Séverine’s motivations on a platter in the film. We get brief flashbacks of possible abuse and Catholic guilt and they make Séverine’s demons even more mysterious and interesting. By using visual metaphors and symbolism, Buñuel leaves plenty of room for the audience to fill in the blanks with their imagination. An example of this is a Japanese client who has an object in a box that makes an insect noise when opened. One of the other prostitutes refused him on seeing what’s inside but Séverine accepts. The audience never sees what’s in the box, but it makes the scene even more sexually charged.
Deneuve’s icy performance shows Séverine as a woman bound by her own fear of sexuality and her society’s rules of propriety. You can feel the palpable release she gets from the ‘clients’ who break them down and the confusion she has over what she does with them. Deneuve excels at depicting the disconnection Séverine has towards her husband, her feelings, and possibly reality. Sorel and Piccoli do well portraying the husband that truly loves Séverine, but doesn’t have a clue about her and the worldly acquaintance who desires Séverine, but also doesn’t have a clue about her. Page’s Madame Anais is confidant and practical, with full knowledge of herself and the business of sex, unlike the rest of the characters.
The disc includes two trailers for Belle de Jour, one from 1967 and one from 1995. Both have very different styles, but both focus on the sexiness of the movie to titillate an American audience. The best thing about this disc is the commentary by Julie Jones, a professor at the University of New Orleans. Unlike some other commentators on DVDs, her clear and concise spiel is done with the confidence of someone who's obviously knowledgeable about the subject at hand. She illuminates some of the more obscure themes and symbolism of Buñuel as they appear in the film. When you see Séverine sewing, Jones tells us that this is a visual symbol for betrayal and deception and Buñuel has used this allusion in several of his other films. Those not familiar with Buñuel’s work could possibly miss that meaning. If you are looking for a movie that challenges the viewer instead of being merely pleasing, it's worth checking out as a rental.
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