Surreal, avant-garde, pornographic fantasies and reality submerge in Deneuve’s engima. If you get the Criterion edition of this film, you will get all the information about the surrealist director, Luis Buñuel ; the supplement even gives a feminist perspective of the film that it was about female liberation, except in the extreme form of masochism. This was 1967. Imagine! An Art House movie, it was ambiguous, bizarre, unreal,a fluff at best? So he says…In the discussion, one of the commentators says, “don’t look for the why, it is about what is possible…” Surrealism explores how the subconscious might or would manifest and in what form (cats moew, cows moo, why?). In other words, there were no reasons why Séverine did those things, she just did. That’s liberating especially when we are in an era where we micro-examine every event and are obsessed in knowing the whys… yet, when we find out, we shelve them and move on to the next big thing… at the end, not knowing more than needed perhaps is better. In other words, accept the fact that humans are not always sane and in-control, though how much we like to believe that we are. Anyway…
Belle de Jour is Séverine’s pseudo-name when she works in the brothel from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. She insists that she leaves at five, so that her husband(Pierre – Jean Sorel), a surgeon, doesn’t suspect. She is an elegant housewife wearing the latest fashion, yet has a growing appetite for subservient sex. A snapshot offers the possible why: childhood abuse. The scene appears as quick as it disappears.
In the opening scene, Pierre and Séverine are in a blissful moment in a landau with two horsemen riding on a forested chemin filled with nature and fresh air. They look in love; they declare their love to each other. Shortly, Pierre retorts Séverine’s “Don’t touch!” by saying she is frigid. In anger, he stops the carriage and orders the horsemen to force her out and drag her deep in the woods, where she is tied up. Pierre rips her dress and un-buttons her bra, and orders one of the horsemen to take her…”What are you thinking”, asks Pierre getting ready for bed, Séverine says, ” I am thinking of you, us…”
If that scene doesn’t intrigue you and ask for more, I don’t know what will. You could scream indecent, pornographic, misogynistic, but it was what it was: Séverine’s thoughts! Who to judge someone’s thought, moral or immoral?
What was amazing when I watched this was tha fact it was 1967 the film was released. One of the topics, necrophilia, may not even pass today’s censor yet there it was. Remember the direction Buñuel took was about subtlety: fill in the blanks yourself. So that was how many scenes were constructed, like this one with an asian client carrying a box that buzzes when opens, it disgusts the other girls, but evokes a big grin on Séverine’s face…a drop of blood on the towel, messy hair, Séverine’s face illuminated.
One of the things that was most talked about was which parts represented reality and which Séverine’s fantasies. The director offered that the two merged at the end. Another aspect was the class differences that French loved to talk about: the aristocrat and the working common. Hence, a lot of Séverine’s fantasies was either about bridging the gap(as sympathy), i.e., wanting to have sex with the underclass, or reinforcing her privilege (I control when,where, how and what), i.e., having more sex with the downs and outs.
This was a psycho-sexual thriller making fun of the boredom of the proper bourgeoise (relationship with husband, Pierre), and exposing their hypocrisy(necrophilia). Deneuve will grab your full attention without any moments of dullness, you just can’t take your eyes off her.
WATCH…label what you want, it’s a great film in my book.