Monday, July 29, 2013

Review: "Belle de jour" is Trippy and Dream-Like (Remembering Luis Buñuel)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 29 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Belle de Jour (1967)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:  France/Italy; Language:  French
Running time:  101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Luis Bunuel
WRITERS:  Jean-Claude Carriere and Luis Bunuel (from the novel by Joseph Kessel)
PRODUCERS:  Henri Baum, Raymond Hakim, and Robert Hakim
EDITOR:  Louisette Hautecoeur
BAFTA Awards nominee


Starring:  Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Geneviève Page, Pierre Clémenti, and Francoise Fabian

The subject of this movie review is Belle de jour, a 1967 film from director Luis Buñuel.  A co-production of France and Italy, this film is based on the 1928 novel, Belle de jour, written by French journalist and novelist, Joseph Kessel.  The film focuses on a sexually frigid young housewife who decides (or is compelled) to spend her midweek afternoons working as a prostitute.

Severine Serizy (Catherine Deneuve) really loves her husband Pierre (Jean Sorel).  However, he doesn’t arouse her, so she can’t be intimate with him.  She entertains numerous, vivid erotic fantasies to satisfy herself.  One day she happens upon the intriguing notion of prostitution.  Before long, she is working as prostitute, named “Belle de Jour,” at a brothel in the afternoons entertaining all manner of weird and unusual clientele.  She remains chaste in her marriage, but one of her clients, who falls madly in lust with her, becomes a danger to her tranquil domesticity.

Some may find Belle de jour’s eroticism dry.  Director Luis Bunuel (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) shows Severine’s fantasies to us as surrealistic plays, and Bunuel is considered the father of cinematic surrealism.  It’s an interesting method in that it forces us to pay close attention to the film, mostly in the hopes that we might catch a flashing image of Ms. Deneuve’s beautiful flesh, anything to satisfy our desires to possess Severine.  Certainly, Belle de jour doesn’t blind us with the blunt images of raw sexuality early 21st audiences have not only come to expect in their movies, but often demand.  Bunuel and his screenwriting partner Jean-Claude Carriere fashioned the story so that we can truly understand Severine’s sexual frustrations.  She’s obsessed with being satisfied, and she driven to find ways to satisfy herself, and in a cathartic fashion we become anxious that she find satisfaction.

In the hands of a lesser talent, this movie would bore us to tears, but Ms. Deneuve encompasses her character’s unrequited lusts.  While her character can’t be physically intimate with her husband, Ms. Deneuve’s performance is spiritually intimate with her audience.  She takes us in and makes us part of her; we feel everything she feels, desires what she seeks, and feel all the danger, confusion, and strangeness her job as a prostitute create in her.  Ms. Deneuve makes Severine more than just a character; Severine is our adventure into the border world between real, physical sex and surrealistic and fantastic longing.

Bunuel creates a film that has a rich and vivid dream world, one that is both undeniably real and suddenly ethereal.  He makes Severine’s escapades through the myriad worlds of lust and longing an adventure as interesting as Alice’s through Wonderland.  It’s a strange film; sometimes, I couldn’t help but wonder what was happening.  I was confused when some of Severine’s fantasies went from episodes of titillation to scenes of harsh punishment.  Belle de jour both frustrated and intrigued me.  I won’t call the film perfect, but it’s certainly an enjoyable example of how powerful and confusing film images can be.  Like a dream, a movie sometimes has a way of not giving you what you saw and thought you were getting.  Both a movie and a dream can stay with you even when you’re unsatisfied them.  You wonder about them and dry to decipher them.  Any movie that can be so like a dream deserves to be seen.

8 of 10

1969 BAFTA Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Actress” (Catherine Deneuve)

Updated:  Monday, July 29, 2013

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