Written by: Luis BuÃ±uel & Jean-Claude CarriÃ¨re, based on the novel by Joseph Kessel
Directed by: Luis BuÃ±uel
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, GeneviÃ¨ve Page, Michel Piccoli
- Feature Commentary by BuÃ±uel scholar Julie Jones
- Original 1967 U.S. theatrical trailer and 1995 re-release trailer
Released by: Miramax
My Advice: Rent it.
SÃ©verine (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 SÃ©verine 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 SÃ©verine as a bored housewife who indulges in some risky, sleazy behavior for kicks. Belle de Jour is not simple. Director BuÃ±uel knows that what motivates people can only be guessed at, even by those acting on those motivations. So he doesn’t hand over SÃ©verine’s motivations on a platter in the film. We get brief flashbacks of possible abuse and Catholic guilt and they make SÃ©verine’s demons even more mysterious and interesting. By using visual metaphors and symbolism, BuÃ±uel 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 SÃ©verine accepts. The audience never sees what’s in the box, but it makes the scene even more sexually charged.
Deneuve’s icy performance shows SÃ©verine 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 SÃ©verine has towards her husband, her feelings, and possibly reality. Sorel and Piccoli do well portraying the husband that truly loves SÃ©verine, but doesn’t have a clue about her and the worldly acquaintance who desires SÃ©verine, 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 BuÃ±uel as they appear in the film. When you see SÃ©verine sewing, Jones tells us that this is a visual symbol for betrayal and deception and BuÃ±uel has used this allusion in several of his other films. Those not familiar with BuÃ±uel’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.