Bell de Jour (1967) movie poster

(1967) dir. Luis Buñuel
viewed: 04/03/02

I am ashamed to say that this is one of the only Buñuel films that I have seen outside of Un chien Andalou, which, coming from a former film student might sound rather shabby. However, I should point out that of the “classics” of cinema (of which there is an almost endless list already), there are many, many more significant films by important directors that I have never seen.

There are just a lot of films out there. And anyone that pretends that they have seen every significant film by each important director, is either just plain lying or simply has way too much time on their hands…or both.

That said, I approached Belle de jour with relatively “fresh” eyes. Which may well be the best possible approach to any film that one can have.

The film is from 1967, starring a young Catherine Deneuve as S�verine, a virginal bourgeois housewife who has masochistic sexual fantasies and comes to lead a double life as a prostitute in a Parisian brothel.

The film operates as a social critique of the middle class but also an exploration of fantasy and separation from reality.

I would suggest that perhaps the former critique speaks potentially to an social dynamic that has ceased to exist in a more literal sense. Its connections to social mores seems “dated,” though only in a contemporary interpretation. Though there are certain essences of the society of late 1960′s France that are universal, one might say that overall, the reality of the film’s world is almost fantasy in itself. Perhaps even in the late Sixties, these ideas addressed an older order that was already in the midst of change.

The film’s exploration of the dream/fantasy and its conflation with reality, on the other hand, still seems rich and powerful. It is not uncommon in cinema for directors to play with narrative by means of “dream sequences,”
even to the point of intentional confusion between opposing “realities” portrayed therein. In Belle de jour, the naturalism of the cinematography lulls one into accepting the inherent “reality” of the story. The film’s latent “surreal” character arises more once the film has ended. The borders between dream and reality have been collapsed, for both S�verine and for the viewer.

There is a troubling misogyny on the surface of the narrative that seems to be a part of the film’s critique of France’s 1960′s bourgeoisie, escaping sexual repression via fantasy. This perceived misogyny dissipated for me as the narrative became less cohesive.

In the end, I found it a remarkable, poetic film, which, I am sure that would do well with deeper analysis than I am offering here.