Arsty I Can Stomach!

Belle de Jour (1967)
A Review By Ben Hunter
4½ Out Of 5 Stars


An artistic approach to sensual vulnerability, an arsty film that I can stomach!


Séverine (Catherine Deneuve) dreams of a fantasy world … of masochism, whips, chains, bondage, even horses; all in the name of love to please her husband, Pierre (Jean Sorel). She can’t seem to get aroused and find the pleasure necessary to sustain her marriage.  Maybe it has something to do with the loss of innocence she experienced as a child?  Maybe it was those amongst other haunting memories that cause her to explore another world in complete contrast with her sexuality? 

“Belle de Jour”, French for “beauty of day”, also a pun of French culture with the phrase “belle de nuit” which stands for “lady of the night”, is the name Séverine received when she works for Madame Anaïs (Geneviève Page) at her high class brothel … having sex with clients.

Based on Joseph Kessel’s 1928 novel, director Luis Buñel takes an artistic and creative approach on the material following the contingencies and endangerments of Séverine, beautifully and elegantly portrayed by Deneuve.  I couldn’t look away with her scenes. 

It’s quite intriguing to see a French film of the new wave (Nouvelle Vague) by a Spanish director.  Buñel had done a lot of work in France, so he fit right into the culture of the movement of films of this particular era.  I admire his ethics to keep things graceful to the eyes with the subtleness of the sexuality here.  Everything is implied, nothing is graphic; when Séverine takes off her undergarments, it’s always with her back to the camera or a cut away, etc.  Gracefully done, easy for broader audiences to experience, yet your imagination does the rest.  

However, I think a little more “sex” was needed to properly convey this feeling.  Nudity isn’t really necessary, but sensuality is.  I wanted something like seeing the camera explore the crevices of Deneuve’s beauty, as she feels vulnerable with her first clients, taking a moment to really feel this with her.  Or even more importantly when she first makes this decision to feel her vulnerability and thoroughly go through the fear of each moment, thinking about her childhood, looking at the building before she enters, just having it linger a moment longer to feel every moment.  We do this already when she experiences sorrow and grief when she becomes entangled with gangsters, high rollers, and unwelcomed advances while keeping together as a housewife.  I liked what was given don’t get me wrong.  But a little more I think was necessary. 

This is a film that “blurs the lines of reality” with its character objectives.  Is Séverine really experiencing this or is it another dream like before?  A different approach to the material than the book, as Buñel takes an “artsy” approach.  For once, or for a rare moment in history, I actually wasn’t repulsed by this approach on a story.  Usually the whole “is it real is it fake?” angers the living daylights out of me and makes me want to experience the silliest of stories, usually bad TV, because of all this “arsty crap” that I just sat two hours through to get to a “what do you think the ending meant?” type of film. 

Belle and those like her of this era play a large part of where those types of films came from.  They set a great example!  The more I think about it, the more I love this film and how much it actually makes sense.  That’s the whole point in my opinion with these films.  Get you thinking about it long after it’s over, but few get it right to me.  I wrote it off a little once it was done, still very much having just enjoyed the experience.  But I started to love it a little more and more as I continued to think about it, which happened all the while long after it was over. 

I still think about it today.

Belle de Jour
Drama, 101 Minutes, Not Rated
Based on the Novel by: Joseph Kessel
Screenplay by: Jean-Claude Carrière, and Luis Buñel
Directed by: Luis Buñel
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Geneviève Page, Pierre Clémenti

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