Belle De Jour-1967
Starring-Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel
Reviewed September 22, 2016
Belle De Jour, the title translated to “lady of the day”, a French pun for “lady of the night”, a kind phrase for prostitution, is a fantastic art film. Stylish, sophisticated, and open to interpretation (at least in my opinion), Belle De Jour is a late 1960’s journey into eroticism, social norms, and sexual freedom. Gorgeous star Catherine Deneuve has never looked better and does mental conflict in a calm way. The film is directed by Luis Bunuel.
Severine is a wealthy young newlywed, seemingly who has it all. She is showered with love and affection, not to mention material items, by her handsome hubby, Pierre, played by dashing Jean Sorel. She wants for nothing as her husband is a doctor of great wealth. Yet she is unhappy and refuses to have physical relations with Pierre. She begins a secret life as a prostitute in a posh home, only working in the afternoons, to avoid being found out. She has no regrets, but is apprehensive about the clients she meets. Throughout the film Severine has secret fantasies about being kept in bondage and enduring various other sexual humiliations. All the while, the question asked is “Is this all Severine’s fantasy or reality”? Or perhaps merely a portion is. The audience wonders.
Do we feel sorry for the character of Severine? Absolutely not. In fact, one could make the argument she is spoiled and selfish, but she is not evil, but rather confused. She is quite polite, and Deneuve fills her with kindness and even an angelic spirit. One cannot despise her even though on the surface one might be tempted to. What right does this woman have to rebuff her husband in lieu of sleazy clients? One particularly volatile client becomes obsessed with Severine and stalks her, going so far as exacting violence against her husband. But wait, is this Severine’s fantasy or reality? Is she imagining everything and merely obediently waiting at home for her husband to return each day or is she living this life?
Many shots of gorgeous Paris are used by Bunuel, including the famed Arc de Triomphe and many other interesting streets and sights, which is a treat for fans of culture. The use of these exteriors goes a long way to ensure that the film is clearly “French” from a visual perspective.
Certainly, in 1967, the sexual revolution was in full swing and Belle De Jour epitomized the revolution of the times. Yet, it does not feel dated or reduced to a film “of its time”. I find it more a character study than a genre film as Severine is an interesting study.
Belle De Jour challenges the viewer with an intense yet subtle story of a woman conflicted with sexual desire and repression- a film open to much interpretation and discussion. It does what an art film is supposed to do- makes us think and ponder.