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.


Movie Project #26: Dancer in the Dark [2000]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Dancer in the Dark [2000]

Dancer in the Dark [2000]
Director: Lars von Trier
Genre: Drama/Musical
Starring: Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse
Runtime: 140 Minutes

My experience with Lars von Trier is limited to the movie Antichrist. While that film was brutal and absolutely horrifying at times, it captivated me in a way that most recent titles have rarely been able to do. It was clear to me that von Trier is a talented director, and I was eager to see more of his work. This led me to Dancer in the Dark, von Trier’s intriguing version of a musical.

The ever-enigmatic Björk stars as Selma, a Czech immigrant who works endless hours to save up money for eye surgery for her son, Gene (Vladica Kostic). A hereditary degenerative disease is causing her to go blind, and she wants her son to have the surgery at a young age to hopefully prevent this from happening to him as well. Selma picks up shifts at all hours of the night, trying to maximize her work schedule before she cannot see at all. She also has a passion for musicals, and has been practicing for a role in a local play. Selma is a bit scatterbrained, to put it mildly, and she frequently goes off into her own little world in the form of daydreams. This is where the film delves into its own version of a musical, as her daydreams transform her surroundings into wild song and dances.

Dancer in the Dark [2000]

There are others in Selma’s life as well. Her best friend, Cvalda (Catherine Deneuve), is a fellow co-worker who always looks out for Selma and takes care of her in times of need. Selma is renting a trailer home on the property of local policeman Bill Houston (David Morse) and his wife Linda (Cara Seymour), both of whom assist her by watching Gene while he is alone. Finally, there is Jeff (Peter Stormare), another co-worker who is infatuated with Selma and does anything he can to help her out.

With so many positive influences in Selma’s life, it sounds like a peaceful and reflective film, right? Uh, no, it’s pretty fucking depressing.

One traumatic moment involving betrayal and death changes the complexion of everything, and soon Selma’s life is thrown into chaos. It is at this point where the film grows incredibly bleak, and it gradually becomes hard to watch. This has human emotion in its rawest form, and some of the character behaviors are downright maddening. Not an easy watch by any means.

Dancer in the Dark [2000]

Björk in the lead role is an interesting choice, and she does a pretty damn good job for not being a real actress. She is quirky and does well to bring compassion to her character, and her contributions to the soundtrack are wonderful. Of course, she has a very distinct style and not everyone will embrace her singing. I thought she was great, but some of her lip syncing during the musical numbers was way off the mark. I got a kick out of some of the song performances, but the lip syncing in general was just terrible and sometimes it took me out of the moment.

Catherine Deneueve and David Morse, in particular, delivered memorable performances as well, and did a great job in their supporting roles.

Dancer in the Dark, while bleak and disturbing in nature, is a well-crafted film that rather fantastically feels like a mix of musical, documentary and drama. The film’s raw emotional style isn’t for everyone, but I rather enjoyed it. Can’t wait to see more of von Trier’s work.