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Belle De Jour
IMDB Rating: 7.8/10 from APPROVED votes
Release: 10 Apr 1968 /

Belle De Jour

Genre: Drama
Director: Luis Buñuel,
Stars: , , ,
Synopsis: A frigid young housewife decides to spend her midweek afternoons as a prostitute.

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Critic Reviews


"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.

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