Luis Buñuel – Belle de Jour (1967)


Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour is 50 years old and back in UK cinemas with all its creamy elegance and scabrous humour intact. With co-writer Jean-Claude Carrière, Buñuel creates a secret theatre of erotic shame. The only thing that really dates the film is a startling moment when someone reads aloud a newspaper headline about Aberfan. It’s the one moment in Buñuel’s career when his surrealism was unintentional. This is the story of Séverine, played by Catherine Deneuve, the beautiful, bored young wife of a wealthy Parisian surgeon, who submits to her conjugal duties rarely and unwillingly, but becomes a high-class prostitute during the day, answering only to the name Belle de Jour and experiencing a secret erotic martyrdom, all deeply bound up with childhood abuse which resurfaces in the form of disturbing flashbacks. These Buñuel coolly intersperses with her dreams and reveries, which appear to take place in the chateau and grounds of some Sadeian romance. Deneuve has an extraordinary and almost translucent paleness, a ghostlike moon of a face, as abstracted as a sleepwalker. The boorish attentions of her husband’s leering friend Husson (Michel Piccoli) and the indiscreet chatter of his girlfriend alert her to the fact that maisons exist in Paris, where she could offer her expensive services. After a nervous introduction to Madame Anaïs (Geneviève Page), who presides over a discreet establishment, Séverine becomes an accomplished professional, working only in the afternoons, with some amazing white lingerie as intricate as ecclesiastical vestments. She is much prized by the clientele as a “pearl”: the Madame explains the vulgar term to the others by grinningly miming a darning needle. Buñuel alludes to her reputation later by showing Séverine decorously practising embroidery in her respectable home. … And above all this, there is a shrewd commentary on the hypocrisy of social relations and sexual politics. Buñuel invites us to ponder the transgression of a respectable woman secretly being a prostitute in the afternoons. But wait. How about a respectable gentleman secretly visiting a prostitute in the afternoon? That happens all the time. Quite normal. The gender stereotype opposition feels like the bowler-hatted man in the Magritte painting seeing his own back in the mirror. A strange, and captivating film.”
Guardian: Belle de Jour review – Catherine Deneuve is extraordinary in a secret theatre of erotic shame (Video)
W – Belle de Jour
senses of cinema: Who Let the Cats Out? Buñuel, Deneuve and Belle de jour
Criterion: Belle de jour (Video)
YouTube: Official Trailer – Directed by Luis Buñuel & newly restored

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