Movie Project #9: Belle de Jour [1967]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Belle de Jour [1967]

Belle de Jour [1967]
Director: Luis Buñuel
Screenplay: Joseph Kessel (novel), Luis Buñuel, Jean-Claude Carrière
Country: France
Genre: Drama
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli
Running Time: 101 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I had never seen a full-length film from Luis Buñuel. My only experience with him was his insane 1929 short film collaboration with Salvador Dalí, Un Chien Andalou.

Accolades: Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Award, Venice Film Festival Pasinetti Award for Best Film, Bodil Award for Best European Film, BAFTA Award Nomination for Best Actress, included in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies series

 
In French, the term “belle-de-jour” refers to the name of the daylily flower meaning “beauty of the day.” In Luis Buñuel’s seminal 1967 film, Belle de Jour, it also serves as the name of a high-class prostitute living a secret life.

Catherine Deneuve stars as Séverine Serizy, a stunningly beautiful housewife who seems to have it all. Her husband, a successful surgeon named Pierre (Jean Sorel), provides her with everything she could ask for, yet they are unable to share a physical connection. They appear to be madly in love with each other, but Séverine is unable to be intimate with him — they even sleep in separate beds.

Belle de Jour [1967]

Little does Pierre know that Séverine has wild, elaborate sexual fantasies involving other men, many of which involve domination and bondage. After hearing from a friend that brothels are still thriving underground, she becomes curious enough to visit one. It is there that she meets Madame Anaïs (Geneviève Page), who encourages her to offer her services. Following a strict schedule of 2-5pm (when her husband is working), Séverine begins working as Belle de Jour, bringing her fantasies to life. Naturally, this double life cannot go on forever, and it leads to tragic consequences.

This film is considered one of the greatest in erotica, and it’s easy to see why. Deneuve is absolutely gorgeous, and I can totally understand why so many men fell in love with her back then (and likely now, even). While quiet for much of the film, she gives her character an incredible amount of depth. There is more to Séverine than meets the eye, as she holds an incredible amount of emotional and mental scars. Every now and then we catch glimpses of her past via random flashbacks, most of which are clues to her current sexual frustration.

Belle de Jour [1967]

What made me fall in love with the film was its intricate use of these flashbacks and daydreams. By the end of the film, I was questioning just what was real and what was not. Reading online theories afterward just made me appreciate the film even more, as there are so many layers present that leave its story open to interpretation. It’s quite possible that everyone can take a different meaning from it.

This is exactly the type of film I love, and it has made me eager to see more from Luis Buñuel. I cannot recommend Belle de Jour enough.

9/10

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26 thoughts on “Movie Project #9: Belle de Jour [1967]

  1. John says:

    This movie sparked my love of three of my most favorite things in the world of cinema: French film (even if it was made by a Spaniard), Luis Buñuel, and Catherine Deneuve. Buñuel skewering a sacred institution like sexuality is damn near a work of art (as is his skewering of every other social convention and institution on the face of the earth in his other films).

    And Deneuve… It’s clearly a subjective opinion, but I don’t think it’s possible for any woman to look more attractive than Deneuve did in that movie. The only thing that even comes close for me is Deneuve in OTHER movies of that same era.

  2. jackdeth72 says:

    Hi, Eric:

    ‘Belle de Jour’ was one of the first serious, non comedic and “grown up” films I caught during my early teens. Ms. Deneuve captivates in every scene.

    While Bunel reveals that he often enjoys taking the circuitrous in telling a tale, He does so with a deft touch and exceedingly well.

  3. The Blog of Big Ideas says:

    This film is usually a part of every list of “great movies” assembled by a reputable critic. My only previous experience with Luis was precisely the same film you had seen, his “crazy” collaboration with Salvador Dali that lost me a few minutes in. I don’t even know, to this day, what I watched that evening a few years ago.
    In any case, this film is one I will probably cover this year, at least that’s my hope. Great review!

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Thanks, Niels. Rest assured that this film is much, much easier to follow than Un Chien Andalou. I’m not quite sure what I saw with that short film either, but I know it captivated me. Hope you’re able to see this one soon!

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