BELLE DE JOUR (France 1967)

largeMaybe all girls dream of being a prostitute. That’s a surreal thought! Moving on… the first glimpse of our main character, Séverine, occurs during a masochistic nightmare (or maybe its a welcome dream) where her husband betrays her on a coach ride through the woods. She awakens in bed, where we discover she has had dreams like this before.

All this is in a linear stream until we soon get a lightning quick cut to a scene of a little girl being sexually advanced on by an older man. Could this be a memory of Séverine’s childhood? Or maybe just another puzzle piece leading us astray. Either way one thinks, he/she is in for a ride of reality and fantasy melding together, eventually becoming one and the same, where at the finish of the film no one will know what actually happened, if anything at all. I hope I have not lost you with that long – winded sentence. No? Good.

Our lead is played magically by Catherine Deneuve. Deneuve is one of the most beautiful women put to film of course. (Talk about stating the obvious!) She is not just a pretty face, however, as her angelic features are needed to juxtapose herself against the brothel lifestyle she soon enters. While cold to her husband physically, although we are shown signs she really does love him, she seems to open up completely during her escapades at a Madame’s underground whorehouse.

At first she shies away from the intimate contact, but soon is reveling in the embarrassment as she’s dominated by her male suitors. The “nightmares” sprinkled throughout, then, could be pleasant dreams, as maybe she wants her husband to demean her and treat her as an object like those that she sees during the day. She superimposes the brutality on her husband in her thoughts because that is what she really desires.

belle-de-jour-e1322580952257Along with Deneuve, we are treated with many great performances, including her husband’s friend Hussan (played by Michel Piccoli) who plays the part with great duplicity. He is a man who Séverine despises yet her husband finds hilarious. An integral part of the film, Hussan could be construed as the conductor of the events at hand. He puts the idea of prostitution into Séverine’s head, and ultimately gets the ball rolling for how the story climax will play out.

Pierre Clémenti also does a wonderful job as Marcel, a regular customer of “Belle de jour” and the complete manifestation of everything she wants her husband to be. His brutality and emotion form a great edge to his character as you never know what he will do next. Marcel is constantly on the fence of keeping himself in check or totally losing his mind.

Belle de jour is a journey into the psyche of our main character. We see her fantasies, her nightmares, her thoughts, and the horrors these hold in store for her. She lives dangerously close to disaster, but seems to enjoy the possibility that she will be caught or hurt. The excitement is what she is really after. There are many ways to interpret a film of this kind and all are probably correct. Just don’t be too fucking boring about it.

Buñuel has created a template for thought and discussion. One leaves his films with a feeling of disorientation, much like that contained by his characters, yet also a desire to crack the code to the mystery. This really is cinema, pronounced with a hard capital C, at its best; an intelligent story that challenges the viewer and doesn’t allow for the banal passivity churned out by Hollywood today.

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