Belle de Jour
- Catherine Deneuve as Severine Serizy
- Jean Sorel as Pierre Serizy
- Michel Piccoli as Henri Husson
- Genevieve Page as Madame Anais
- Pierre Clementi as Marcel
Belle de Jour is one of Luis Bunuel’s most surreal films. Focusing on the fantasies of a bourgeoise housewife who has a double life as a prostitute, it boasts an excellent performance from Catherine Deneuve as well as a deft hand at revealing the surreal nature of hallucinations and entwining them with the everyday. It is truly an example of world cinema that needs to be seen for movie buffs.
Severine Serizy is the beautiful wife of a successful doctor Pierre living in a chic apartment. Although in love with Pierre, she is frigid and unable to experience intimacy with him. Little does Pierre know that Severine has many wild fantasies going on in her head, many of which are masochistic. After hearing a friend of Pierre mention a brothel, a curious Severine goes to visit. It is there that she is given the name Belle de Jour by the Madame , the name translates into English as beauty of the day. Her name comes from the flower of the same name and the fact that she begins work as a prostitute between the hours of 2 and 5. Although she is at first hesitant about her job, she eventually gains satisfaction from it. It is in the boudoirs of the brothel that Severine’s wild and strange fantasies come to life, and we watch her lead a double life as an icy, aloof housewife and prostitute. Her double life becomes complicated when she catches the eye of volatile gangster Marcel, who wants the beautiful woman all to himself.
Bunuel’s film is certainly erotic, yet never explicit, letting the audience think about the events in the brothel. As Severine’s fantasies begin to run wild, they become almost a reality. It is through this technique that Bunuel crafts this perverse fable, as the audience is left to wonder what is real and what is in the icy Severine’s mind. The many instances of her imagination are surreal and startling, as apparent in the famous opening sequence. In it, Severine and Pierre are riding in a horse-drawn carriage, when Pierre suddenly gets it to stop. He instructs the horseman to tie Severine to a nearby tree and whip her mercilessly. The scene then cuts to a contented Severine in her bedroom, telling Pierre she was thinking of him. Was it a dream or not? That is precisely the point as Bunuel cloaks the film in ambiguity and enigmas, making the film one that can be read on various levels. Catherine Deneuve turns in a startling performance, revealing the inner desires of Severine through the tiniest gestures and facial expressions. She is by turns enigmatic, erotic and strange, all of this is a testament to her abilities as an actress as we are left to wonder what is really going on underneath her glacial exterior. Her performance is one that lingers long in the memory because of its effectiveness. Although the film can be read as an account of a warped mind, it can also be seen as a parable on the link between the respectability and debauchery. Colours are used effectively to convey Severine’s freedom and erotic desires that come alive when working and the various costumes worn by Deneuve are stunning.
Truly an iconic example of surrealism and sexuality, highlighted by Deneuve’s portrayal of the eponymous beauty, Belle de Jour is a strange, enthralling psychological drama that will haunt the memory like a refrain long after you’ve seen it.