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 
Director: Luis Buñuel
Screenplay: Joseph Kessel (novel), Luis Buñuel, Jean-Claude Carrière
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.
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.
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.