Belle de Jour (1967)
Film School lecture & discussion will be hosted by Dr. Rebecca Sullivan, Dept. of English, University of Calgary.
Please note that due to scheduling conflicts, this month's Film School screenings will be in reverse order, of sorts. That is, the first screening—the Saturday matinee, this month—will feature our guest speaker, while the Thursday following will be a repeat screening for those who can't make it on the weekend.
Catherine Deneuve's porcelain perfection hides a cracked interior in one of the actress's most iconic roles: Séverine, a Paris housewife who begins secretly spending her afternoon hours working in a bordello. This surreal and erotic late-sixties daydream from provocateur for the ages Luis Buñuel is an examination of desire and fetishistic pleasure (its characters' and its viewers'), as well as a gently absurdist take on contemporary social mores and class divisions. Fantasy and reality commingle in this burst of cinematic transgression, which was one of Buñuel's biggest hits.
For people who find pleasure in sexual kinks but aren't quite comfortable with their appetites, Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour is the ultimate candy. Perversely funny, and told in a manner that's elegant and nonjudgmental, Belle de Jour gives depravity a touch of class—and lets its audience indulge their guilty pleasures with impunity.Edward Guthman, San Fransisco Chronicle, 1995
Luis Buñuel's particular combination of religion, decay, and morbid eroticism has never been my absolutely favorite kind of cinema—although Viridiana was great, and people who say they have an interest in the arts, "if only the subject matter were not so depressing," are of a particularly philistine order of square. But Belle de Jour is a really beautiful movie, and somehow, letting the color in—this is Buñuel's first color film—has changed the emotional quality of his obsessions in a completely unpredictable way. All these clean, lovely, well-dressed people preparing for their unspeakable practices are very attractive.Renata Adler, NYT, 1968
Recently, there have been a slew of productions probing issues of identity and double lives. Indeed, this has become a favorite province of independent film makers, probably because it's such a rich field. However, back in 1967, the path was less frequently trodden, and Luis Buñuel's serious-yet-satirical picture helped pave the way for many stories yet to come.
Today, Belle de Jour is as effective as ever. With a ravishing Catherine Deneuve in the title role, this film is a study of contrasts. The main character is at once glacial yet erotic—a wife by night and prostitute by day. She is two different people in one body, but Buñuel underlines the truth that no person can effectively compartmentalize facets of their life. Crossovers are inevitable, and the harder we try to repress one segment of who we are, the more likely it is to assert itself—forcefully.
Buñuel also pokes fun at the morals of society by depicting what goes on behind closed doors at the brothel where Deneuve's Severine spends her afternoons. An internationally-known gynecologist begs to be punished. A businessman frolics with three girls at one time. Then there are Severine's erotic fantasies, which easily become entangled with her surreal secondary life. In fact, her misguided relationship with a gangster (Pierre Clementi) arises out of a hidden desire to flirt with danger.
All along, Severine's husband Pierre (Jean Sorel) is blissfully ignorant of his wife's daytime job. He loves her, but wishes she would be more sexually attentive. Meanwhile, a friend (Michel Piccoli) pursues Severine tirelessly—until he learns her secret. At that point, the chase loses its allure. After all, where's the fun if the "forbidden fruit" isn't quite so forbidden?
Much of the film works because of the capable acting of Deneuve. The scenes where she first approaches the brothel, tentative and uncertain yet undeniably intrigued, are perfectly realized. Deneuve's performance allows the viewer to feel—not merely sense—the strange mixture of seduction and repulsion that prostitution holds for a woman in her position. And, as Severine's sexual liberation takes place, Deneuve's beauty is transformed from cool and aloof to coy and playful.James Berardinelli, 1995