Belle de Jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967)

19Apr11

Catherine Deneuve (Séverine Serizy), Michel Piccoli (Henri Husson), Geneviève Page (Madame Anais). Screenplay by Jean-Claude Carriere and Luis Buñuel. Directed by Luis Buñuel. Rating: 18. Running time: 101 minutes.

Belle de Jour the film unfolds like literature. Novels may be more commonly renowned for their cryptic clues lurking between the lines, and the meaning of their metaphors which are easily missed by the untrained eye. But these techniques are attempted here in a less conventional format, and the result is a rarity: a film sufficiently intriguing to be labelled art, in a medium so prone to fall into cliché and easy, straightforward storytelling.

Scattered throughout Belle de Jour are scenes increasing our understanding of its disturbed, sexually-confused protagonist. Deneuve had played an androphile in Polanski’s Repulsion two years earlier. Now she fears intimacy only with her husband, and seeks an alternative to her bourgeois existence not out of boredom, but masochism, degrading herself to the level of a whore in a high-class brothel, allowing herself to be abused by cold men looking for emotionless, brutal sex.

The rationale, if it even makes sense to seek one, is a mystery. Buñuel drops us minor suggestions, but he seems more interested in treating her psychology as an engrossing given than in turning his film into Freudian analysis. From the fact that she is perplexing, what follows is us observing someone we don’t and won’t understand, but wish to. And yet instead we are teased with an increasingly worrying riddle: surrealist sexual fantasies involving whips and mud throwing, that incredible look on her face after the enormous Asian man has devoured her. She’s inexplicable yet irresistible, and Buñuel has us all tied up for this uncomfortably erotic but ingenious ride.

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