wed 28/02/2024

DVD/Blu-ray: Belle de Jour | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: Belle de Jour

DVD/Blu-ray: Belle de Jour

Catherine Deneuve's daydreaming privileged wife unleashes her inner slut in Luis Buñuel’s classic

Little man, what now?: Francis Blanche and Catherine Deneuve in 'Belle de Jour'StudioCanal

In the most famous scene in Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour, Catherine Deneuve’s resplendently blonde Séverine fantasises being tied to the wooden frame of a crude outdoor eating space.

There she is pelted with mud by her surgeon husband Pierre (Jean Sorel) and his friend Husson (Michel Piccoli), an older roué she hates but to whom she is perversely attracted.

A herd of cows is nearby and the black mud is likely mixed with their shit. Before throwing the ordure and calling Séverine filthy names, the two men discuss the time of day, which is between 2 and 5 pm. These are the hours the 23-year-old bourgeoise Séverine works as a prostitute for a small Paris brothel, fulfilling her need for sadomasochistic sex as much as her clients’ needs. Two of them, a stocky Asian man (Iska Khan) and a vicious young hoodlum (Pierre Clementi), who becomes erotomaniacally obsessed with her, leave her sated – as, in her daydream, does the mud-splattering.

Ignorant of Séverine’s afternoon delights, Pierre would be traumatised if he learned of them. Though he is handsome, she cannot bring herself to have intercourse with him. Most critics describe her as “frigid”, but she clearly is not. The couple's problem is that the caring Pierre elicits a coldness in Séverine, most likely an incest taboo. En route to Belle de Jour's ironically happy ending, Séverine even imagines Pierre symbolically emasculated, as if he is Lady Chatterley's husband.

Belle de jourSubtly, Buñuel is targeting the aridity of bourgeois marriages and all they represent in social terms. The brothel, where Séverine’s two friendly co-workers ignore class distinctions, is more hospitable than Séverine and Pierre’s respectable milieu.

Buñuel doesn’t sentimentalise the whorehouse, however. Geneviève Page’s madam is a shark. The adolescent daughter of her middle-aged maid is in danger of being corrupted by the johns. And it’s a place where the 1966 Aberfan disaster is callously invoked in a throwaway comment on a gangster client’s ability or inability to read English.

Buñuel’s masterly surreal comedy, a throwback to his early masterpieces Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age d’Or, turns 50 this year, but it feels of the moment. It chimes with the current sociocultural imperative for women to embrace their inner sluts, not to mention their nostalgie de la boue – the longing for "mud", or depravity.

What it doesn’t do – any more than Trainwreck, Fleabag, the recent Daphne or 1997’s Under the Skin – is suggest that female promiscuity can be anything other than a pathological response to trauma; Séverine’s memories show she was abused as a child. In cinema, the satisfying zipless fuck is as mythical as a happy brothel afternoon.

The 4K restoration of Belle de Jour, available from StudioCanal on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital download, includes a commentary by film scholar Peter W Evans; a new interview with Jean-Claude Carrière, who co-adapted Joseph Kessel’s novel with Buñuel, and their final script; and an interview with the prominent French sexologist Dr. Sylvain Mimoun on whether the film is a story of perversion or emancipation. Perhaps they are not mutually exclusive.


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