The One about Luis Bunuel’s “Belle de Jour”

Luis Bunuel’s “Belle De Jour” starring the beautiful Catherine Deneuve. One of Bunuel’s most recognized films in his oeuvre, the film is also one of Deneuve’s most recognized films in her career.

But if you want to read about Catherine Deneuve’s mindset during the filming of a few of her films especially with Luis Bunuel, Francois Truffaut, Roman Polanski and Lars von Trier, check out her book “The Private Diaries of Catherine Deneuve: My Life Behind the Camera”.

Luis Buñuel, is often referred to as a filmmaker who is a master of surrealism.  A filmmaker who is known for his dark humor and one who works best when given that creative freedom.

With a several films in his magnificent oeuvre, Buñuel is known for films such as “Viridiana”, “Phantom of Liberty”, “That Obscure Object of Desire”, “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”, “The Exterminating Angel” to name a few.

But in 1967, Buñuel would direct a French film “Belle de Jour” (which translated to “daylight beauty”) starring popular French actress “Catherine Deneuve”, who had won the hearts of audiences with the Jacques Demy film “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” in 1964 and the Roman Polanski film “Repulsion” in 1965.

For this “Belle de Jour”, Buñuel (along with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere) would create a film that was very different from the 1928 novel by Joseph Kessel and for those who have worked with him and know of his work, he typically creates films that are far from the screenplay and often injects surrealism, so in this case… What is real and what is fantasy? That is for the viewer to interpret.

Before discussing the film, what made “Belle de Jour” a film that attracted my attention was the fact that Luis Buñuel directed it.  For anyone who has seen any of his wonderful films and have gravitated towards his work because of its surrealism, for me…I’m literally grinning while watching his films because he does not follow traditional filmmaking, nor does he want to compartmentalized a storyline and make it simple for the viewer.   His films are notable because he does what he wants and while many question his choices of “why?”, his answer is typically “why not?” and if one had a different viewpoint of his filmmaking, he would answer with a “if you directed the film with what you want to see…then go for it!”.

He’s a filmmaker and a creative artist, and like an artist such as Salvador Dali, you view his films and enjoy it for what it is.  There are too many critics who find Buñuel’s work so maddening because it’s not clear-cut but why should his work be banal?  That is what I love about Buñuel films and make me slightly biased towards a more positive viewpoint because his films are non-traditional and quite enjoyable.

Which leads us to “Belle de Jour”.  Sure, this is not the clearcut storyline that Joseph Kessel wrote in his 1928 novel about a woman named Séverine Sérizy who was molested at a young age and lives a double life of being a normal housewife and becoming a prostitute for a few hours in order to fulfill her sexual desires.

In the film adaptation, Buñuel does keep the theme, we are aware that Séverine Sérizy was molested and because of that, she has harbored sexual feelings of masochism that she is too afraid to ask her husband to do to her.  But while Kessel’s book is quite straightforward of one woman pursuing that lifestyle and living a life of unhappily ever after, Buñuel shows us reality and shows us fantasy and at the end, both reality and fantasy come together as one.

One must remember that in 1967, this film was rather shocking to many people.  For one, unlike today where one can psychoanalyze a person who has been molested and growing up to have some major issues, back then, it was an issue that was rarely discussed.  And also, rarely do you find a film that focuses on a protagonist who has masochistic desires.

The film begins with Séverine Sérizy being led out to a car by her husband Pierre and is tied up, her bra removed and is whipped and is kissed by another man.  A fantasy.

But then there are many other fantasies with Séverine going under the table with Monsieur Husson and while the table is shaking, her husband and friend are carrying on with a conversation. To being with a man who is interested in possibly using an insect and using it for some sexual pleasure to another man who has an unusual sexual desire by having Séverine in a coffin and even a scene where she is kissed by her madame.

And each fantasy, we see her sexual desire escalating and also introducing things that may be a bit bizarre but she she enjoys it until things become dangerous. And the way it is presented by Luis Buñuel is not clear-cut like the book but done with a great touch of surrealism with amazing efficacy.

And of course, Catherine Deneuve is absolutely wonderful in her performance.  Bringing this calm but also sexually dangerous side to her character which was quite intriguing as she has considered herself as an introverted person, so to see her playing this role, I was quite amazed the first time I watched it and if you enjoyed this film, you definitely want to watch her next collaboration with Luis Buñuel in “Tristana” (and equally entertaining is reading “The Private Diaries of Catherine Deneauve” which she wrote about her daily experience on working on that film).

Overall, “Belle de Jour” is just one of the cinema masterpiece in Luis Buñuel’s oeuvre, but it’s a magnificent film that showcased feminine sexuality in a way not seen in cinema at that moment of time.  For those who love surrealism in cinema, especially coming from Luis Buñuel, they will find “Belle de Jour” to be a wonderful experience.

For the cineaste, this film is recommended!