Friday, May 19, 2017

50 Years of Belle de Jour

Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1967) was one of the esteemed director’s most accessible and successful films. Over the years it has attained the stature of a true art house classic, combining popular elements of the French New Wave with Buñuel’s own patented brand of stunning surrealism. It further cemented the reputation of Catherine Deneuve as an iconic beauty with acting chops to match, and enhanced Michel Piccoli’s status as France’s go-to leading man. It was also the zenith of the final stage of Buñuel’s long career, and his return to European filmmaking after a long, self-imposed exile in Mexico.

Belle de Jour is the story of Séverine (Deneuve), a young housewife who daydreams about a life filled with romance and erotic adventure. When that life is not delivered by her pragmatic, hardworking husband (Jean Sorel), Séverine begins a secret career as a prostitute at an upscale brothel in a chic Parisian neighborhood. Working afternoons only, she is careful to return home in time to greet her husband when he returns for the evening. Eventually the naive Séverine has her eyes, and legs, opened by a variety of men, some with bizarre, kinky fetishes and some simply lost souls seeking companionship. But when she becomes involved with a lovestruck, psychotic gangster (Pierre Clémenti), the true cost of her harmless hobby is thrown into sharp relief.

Despite its lofty historical status, Belle de Jour is a film that has not aged well. Its eroticism - innovative in 1967 - is surprisingly tame and untitillating by today’s standard. This is a least partially due to cinematographer Sacha Vierny’s harsh over-lighting, which gives every character three shadows. Buñuel’s typical melding of reality and dreams is an important element of Belle de Jour, and while it may have been unique 50 years ago, it’s the kind of thing that’s been done to death in the years hence. Still, Belle de Jour was a significant step in the sexual liberation of mainstream cinema, and blazed a trail for the more explicit and complex films that followed. It should be viewed as an essential artifact of film history, dealing with long suppressed themes ripe for revolution.


Lemmy Caution said...

I agree with Belle being a bit of a dated watch these days. What Bunuel film do you think has held up the best? Do you have a favorite? I just recently re-watched Viridiana the other night and still find it pretty fantastic.

Bunched Undies said...

I love Simon of the Desert because it's so friction' insane.

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