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"Belle de Jour" is generally considered to be director Luis Bunuel's
masterpiece; a surprisingly revealing and seemingly personal venture
into the world of eroticism and its deviances. It's a truly
surrealistic exercise in ambiguity, fantasy, and reality. The line that
separates them is blurred so much that the famously mysterious ending
has had critics arguing for decades over its meaning.
The fantasy sequences are usually signalled by the sound of carriage
bells, but by the end of the film the viewer is no longer able to
differentiate between what is another one of Severine's fantasies and
what is reality. Even Bunuel admitted to not knowing himself. He said
that "by the end, the real and imaginary fuse; for me they form the
same thing." The gorgeous Catherine Deneuve, resplendent in her icy
prime, portrays Severine Sevigny, the middle-class wife of Pierre, a
doctor. She is frigid, virginal, yet seemingly happy enough in her
bourgeoisie life and its trappings. However, upon hearing about a local
clandestine brothel from a friend, she pays a visit to the madame, and
becomes a prostitute, going by the name of "Belle de Jour", as she can
only work in the afternoons. She apparently fully realizes and enjoys
her sexuality, despite her guilty conscience, exclaiming that she
"can't help it". She certainly doesn't need the money. She's bored with
her life and her marriage, needing a "firm hand" to lead her; a need
which the madame, Anais, who is obviously attracted to her, almost
immediately recognizes. Her sweet and conventional husband is unaware,
treating her much like a child, and the audience cannot help but
believe that even if he knew of her true nature, he would not
understand or empathize. She keeps her two worlds neatly separate until
a patron of hers (whom she herself enjoys) becomes obsessed with her,
and all is threatened.
That Alfred Hithcock in particular admired this film comes as no
surprise to me; Deneuve would have been the perfect Hitchcock heroine:
an icy blonde who becomes "a whore in the bedroom", as Hitchock was
fond of saying he preferred in his leading ladies. But this remark is
not meant to simplify the story, its telling, or Deneuve's remarkable
performance, which is what truly draws the viewer into the film.
"Belle de Jour" was Bunuel's first foray into the use of color, and he
employed it to great effect. From the fall colors displayed in the
landscape scenes, to the subtle shades in Deneuve's clothing, the
contrasts are set. While the world around her explodes in glorious
hues, Deneuve's character is defined by her couture, if staid, wardrobe
of tan, black, and white.
"Belle de Jour" was unreleased for many years due to copyright
problems, but finally re-released in 1995 through the efforts of
director Martin Scorcese, and released on DVD in 2003. I've watched it
twice in the past week and am still at a loss to describe it very well;
suffice to say that I am in awe. It's an amazingly erotic film without
any explicitness, and one that I expect hasn't lost any of its effect
over the years. As the subject matter is handled very tactfully and
without any actual sex scenes; a great deal is left to the viewer's
imagination - which only serves the heighten the mysteries inherent at
every turn in the film. The viewer is however drawn into the sense of
feeling to be a voyeur into Severine's secret life; the careful
choreography of scenes and camera angles contribute to the
uncomfortable sense of intrusion by us, the viewers.
There are many sub-stories and small mysteries in the film; for
instance one of the most widely debated upon by critics is the mystery
of "what is in the Asian client's little box?" that he presents first
to one prostitute, who quickly refuses, then to Severine, who
tentatively agrees. All the audience know is that it's something with a
insect-like noise, and when the client leaves, Severine is sprawled
face-down upon the bed, the sheets thrown about, and obviously pleased
with whatever took place in the interim.
"Belle de Jour" was awarded the Golden Lion at the 1967 Venice Film
Festival, as well as the award for Best Foreign Film in 1968 from the
New York Film Critics Circle.
Interesting side notes: Bunuel himself had a shoe fetish, which helps
explain the numerous shots of Deneuve's beautifully clad feet
throughout the film, and the fact that every time she goes shopping,
she buys shoes. He also appears in the film in a cameo as a cafe
patron, and in another scene his hands are shown loading a gun.
Tags for Belle De Jour Full Movie
, Geneviève Page
, Jean Sorel
, Michel Piccoli
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