BELLE DE JOUR
Review by Amanda Jacobson
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli,
Genevieve Page, Pierre Clementi
Director: Luis Bunuel
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: See Review
Length: 100 Minutes
Release Date: January 17, 2012
"Pierre, please...don't let the cats out!"
I have to start off by saying I was thrilled at the opportunity to write a review for Belle De Jour, since I can totally relate in some strange ways based on past relationships to the character of Severine.
The movie opens with what is an adorable carriage ride in the woods. You immediately understand that the beautiful well to do blonde, Severine, is a bit frigid. Her Dr. husband Pierre is frustrated and has had enough. He kicks her out of the carriage and has the two drivers drag her by her hair through the woods, tie her to a tree and allows them to bullwhip her. That was one of her many fantasies and/or dreams you will see that occur throughout the movie.
After a nice ski trip with her spouse, her friend and the friend's spouse Severine learns a mutual acquaintance has resorted to “turning tricks”. She responds and is kind of in a daze during the conversation with her female friend. Later on at a tennis game, she runs into her friends husband who has a definite unrequited attraction to Severine. Somehow he picks up on the fact that the image of turning tricks is filling her head. He mentions he'd been to a few brothels in his day, but they were nothing like the way they used to be. He calls out an address and name of a Madame Anais.
Severine is very distracted and gives into temptation, although sheepishly, and drops by to meet Madam Anais. There are two other ladies in the brothel, and Severine accepts the job. Her acceptance is obviously not based on needing money or help financially, but more to allow herself to free her mind and dreams of these taboo kinky fantasies of being humiliated, beaten and defiled. She and the Madame agree to the name of “Belle De Jour” due to the strict schedule she must keep in order to keep her husband in the dark.
Severine becomes involved with Marcel, an apprentice of Mr. Hyppolite, a well known and well off client. He almost leaves because of her having a birth mark he didn’t like. The whole time Severine is working at the brothel, she starts to develop feelings and likewise for Marcel. Despite her feeling closer to her husband Pierre, the fantasies and dreams continue. Marcel is smitten by this time and is demanding more time from Severine, and wants to abscond with her away from her handsome husband and home. Eventually, her friends husband, Hussan visits her brothel and she is found out. He promises to keep the hooking secret for her.
Belle disappears from Madame Anais brothel for about two weeks, and is on vacation with her husband. She returns and Marcel tracks her down. He arrives at her home to ask her to go away with him. She refuses and admits she is ready to “atone” for the wrong she's done to her husband and friends by being a prostitute. She talks him into leaving as her husband Pierre is coming home. Pierre is gunned down by Marcel. Marcel is gunned down while on the run from the police, as he wrecked a car after shooting Pierre.
Cut to the near end of the movie. Marcel dies, Pierre lives, but is blind and paralyzed from the gunshot wounds. Hussain decides he will now reveal Severine for the unvirtuous woman she is and has been for a while. Severine walks in to see tears rolling down Pierre's cheeks. She then flashes into a fantasy of them in a carriage ride in the woods.. and him regaining his sight and ability to walk . It would seem that now she's had the kinky desires in her life fulfilled, she now longs for and dreams of the simple things, the way they were before the brothel.
I honestly enjoyed the movie and brothel scenes because it doesn't promote abuse of women, but allows them to live their fantasies even though they may not work out or in worst case scenarios end badly. I also loved it because of my love for the D/S lifestyle I have myself. It's not just sexual, there's an absolute mental freedom you can have from just letting your mind and body go in some of these scenes. I giggled because one of the clients was a Gyno, and brought his own suitcase of toys.. I saw a speculum, an enema kit.. a VERY archaic flogger, and he thoroughly enjoyed the humiliation and flogging one of the other girls gave him. I think.. back in this era BDSM related activities were very much taboo, and can kind of see why he was drawn to the brothel play.
Simply astounding...I've seen previous incarnations of this movie for home video, but Criterion's new Blu-ray is breathtaking. The colors are bolder and more vibrant than ever, and the level of detail and clarity will certainly belie the 45 years of age this film is carrying. Film fans and cineastes are in for a real treat with this offering...superb!
The uncompressed French mono works very well...not a lot of dynamic range, but the openness of the audio makes subtler sounds clearer than before, whether it's a bit of natural ambience or other smaller noises here and there. Nicely done.
The generous extras package starts with a commentary from Michael Wood, an author of a book on the movie. There is a new video piece from activist Susie Bright and scholar Linda Williams about the sexual politics of the film. A vintage French television interview from 1966 takes you behind the scenes of the making of the picture, while a new interview with co-writer Jean-Claude Carriere reflects back on his time with Bunuel. There is also the original trailer, the American trailer, and the 90s re-release trailer, plus a terrific booklet loaded with photos, essays and more.
Belle de Jour remains a controversial classic and the most successful film to come from the unusual mind of Luis Bunuel. I'm so thrilled to see Criterion get their hands on this masterpiece...they have done a brilliant job.