Belle de Jour Reviews
Ravishingly beautiful, but a woman of a few words and seemingly aloof, Severine (Catherine Deneuve) is what you would call the typical "bored housewife", but not for any fault of her husband's mind you. Pierre (John Sorel) is a handsome, loving husband and together they lead a luxurious life, yet Severine is somehow averse to the idea of sleeping with her husband. Hence, although they share the same bedroom, they don't share the same bed, much to Pierre's dismay, but he chooses to hang in there hoping Severine would come around and overcome her discomfort.
Their family friend Henri (Michel Piccoli) openly flirts with Severine and she keeps rejecting his advances and asks him to keep his compliments to himself!
So aloof is Severine, that sometimes her mind wanders off (and the audience has to watch carefully to find out "when"), and she has vividly erotic fantasies of masochistic nature. Given her quiet nature, some of these fantasies manage to shock....for instance, when she imagines herself being tied and stripped and whipped and molested by two carriage drivers in the middle of the woods!
A chance information about an acquaintance entices her to explore something new...she decides to spend her afternoons in a high class brothel working as a prostitute!
"Belle De Jour" is a complex film. This doesn't refer to its plot..that part is fairly simple. What is complex, then, is Severine's troubled psychology. Only through various images and Severine's mood and expressions, Bunuel tries to convey to us what exactly brews in her head. It is with great dexterity that Bunuel directs the scenes in the brothel. Just like her, we are in for a surprise, every time a new client comes in. Her interactions with the several clients with bizarre fetishes of varying proportions are showcased in some of the film's best scenes.
Bunuel cleverly intersperses the narrative with fleeting shots depicting her (possibly traumatic) past...which give subtle clues about her behavioral traits. Some aspects of her psyche are revealed in some surreal sequences (some of the best I've seen in film).
For the most part, Bunuel directs like a true master and builds the film beautifully as it takes the form of a potent psycho-sexual drama which works to mesmerizing effect. But he does not rely on gratuitous sex and nudity to accomplish his goal. In fact there is not a single scene with explicit nudity in "Belle De Jour". Bunuel instead relies on shocking images including the situations in the brothel, Severine's outlandish fantasies, the overall tension between some characters (including a lesbian subtext) and of course, the fine performances. Suffice to say, "Belle De Jour" is one of the boldest films I've seen, especially for its time.
However, the episode involving a particularly violent client of Severine, Marcel (Pierre Clémenti) in the final act seems a bit forced and has the trappings of a pedestrian thriller, which could've been done away with or handled differently. The film would be just as effective, or even more, without this particular plot development. Nonetheless, it doesn't render this otherwise flawless film any less watchable.
At the center of this spellbinding experience, is the woman herself, Catherine Deneuve, the breathtaking beauty, who enchants us with her arresting performance as Severine. In spite of not being in agreement with her about some of the decisions she makes, one can't help but root for her. On some level, her character in "Belle De Jour" reminded me of her character in Roman Polanski's classic psychological thriller "Repulsion"..although both films as such are entirely different.
It wouldn't be wrong to say that although there are plenty of films depicting a married woman and her repressed sexuality out there, only a handful few, like Luis Bunuel's "Belle De Jour" actually stand out, the reasons for which you'll find out when you are done watching it!
One day, on a skiing vacation, Renée tells Severine that another 'respectable' housewife is known to be working at a brothel by day. Soon after, Pierre's friend Mr. Hussen, a man fascinated by Severine's virtue and by the idea of corrupting her, gives her the address of his "favorite whorehouse". And so Severine sets out to become Belle de Jour, for her own sake.
The main story of Belle de Jour is not surrealistic itself; in fact it's quite "grounded" and connected to perfectly relatable feelings and motives from most characters. There are recurrent dreams but they can be told apart from 'reality' with few exceptions. However, this doesn't mean that Buñuel's social commentary isn't as biting as in the rest of his work: one of the things that he makes stand out in the film is the obvious double morale in Severine's bourgeois circle, in which it's perfectly okay for men to visit whorehouses, but almost criminal for a woman to freely decide to work in one.
Michel Piccoli, although he's never been entirely of my liking, gives a great performance as the man whose mediocre 'libertinage' first shakes Severine's restless spirit. Jean Sorel is also very good as the innocent, unbearably understanding Pierre, and Macha Méril is lovely as always as Renée. However, Belle de Jour belongs to Deneuve and to Pierre Clémenti, who plays one of Severine's clients, a young criminal who falls madly in love? (or in lust?) with her. His performance is short but incredibly intense, tragic, and steals the show in all his scenes. He had that same menacing containment (a time-bomb quality) that Klaus Kinski became famous for. I think he's one of the main reasons to watch the film.
Catherine Deneuve's performance is astonishing: she changes ever so slightly as she discovers herself; she struggles to be a 'good' prostitute and evolves gracefully into the girl with the highest demand. Her walk grows less stiff, her smile becomes easier, but she never loses that high-class elegance that caused such a stir in Madame Anais's establishment. She's nothing short of wonderful and I can't imagine anyone else in this part.
Belle de Jour is as close as I've seen Buñuel get to a character study. In a subtle way he seems to empathize with Severine and make her self-inflicted emotional confinement come across with the same urgency as she experiences it, so regardless of our personal views on prostitution we have no doubt that she is doing what she deems appropriate to save herself (in this case Buñuel tries to 'explain' Severine with some flashbacks from her childhood)... It is an unusual subject, but an important one nevertheless: it isn't rare that our biggest limitations should come from within ourselves.
Arthouse Rating: 3.5 stars
Luis Bunuel created the colorful and seductive work of Belle de Jour. An emotionally but not sexually pleased woman, who goes into prostitution, and also has several bondage fantasies. The film opens with one of these fantasies, and similar to the opening suicide scene in Harold & Maude, we are informed it isn't reality. Everything does feel real enough though, the genuine development of the character "Belle de Jour" was paced professionally. The tension between her and an obsessive client brings a true turning point in the story.
The film had you sucked in the whole time, it played with your mind, and pushed the borders. While it did expose some taboos to the screen, I believe it didn't go to far, as to making the viewer turned off. While it was entertaining, I believe the end was unexplained. Bunuel had the potential to pull anything out during the full film, but the ending was delicate, and it ended up coming out of nowhere. I have no true explanation, while it did stick to you, I think it'll result in the movie being forgotten in the mind. The core of the film is toned, but there was no outer result.
Séverine loves her husband but not sexually and decides to go out and work at a brothel. Scared at first since she has never done anything like this becomes aquainted by Madame Anaïs(Geneviève Page) who takes Séverine under her wings while teaching her the game of brothel life. Soon Séverine rises the ranks and becomes a favourite, particularly to gangster who offers her the thrills and excitement contained in her fantasies. Their business relationship turns a bit sour as the young gangster becomes deadly due to his jealousy and threatning demands.
It's a soft film and can be humourous and yet erotic too(but in a quiet way) Bunuel seems to have a knack for this kind of material and a foot fetish for Severine's feet..."Sniff, sniff".
What follows is a series of events that takes her down a new road she might not be ready for. Deneuve is excellent in her role. Buñuel offers some classic imagery that he has been famous for.
But, in the end, you wonder if there is much point beyond Deneuve's journey. And, the ending is left to interpretation. That isn't bad, and is actually the highlight of the film, since it is where the film is set free.