226 of 234 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2002
First, let's get something straight: Belle de Jour was shot 35 years ago in France. It's just not ever going to look as clean, sharp, and saturated as a newer movie. Director Martin Scorsese (who spearheaded its re-release) is a purist; he would not want to artificially "enhance" the picture at the risk of distorting Luis Bunuel's original vision.
Second, this DVD is non-anamorphic for very good reason: Belle de Jour was photographed in 1.66:1 widescreen. 16:9 enhancement would actually have CUT OFF some of the picture at the top and bottom. People who complain about the quality of this DVD simply don't know what they're talking about.
As for the movie itself, Belle de Jour is one of the few films about eroticism that really gets it right - it knows that eroticism is in the mind, not the body. The always luminous Catherine Deneuve plays Severine - a woman whose life is at once picture-perfect and fundamentally empty. She is married to a good provider, the handsome but boring Pierre (Jean Sorel), and enjoys all the idle upper-middle class accouterments.
But something is wrong in this greeting-card perfect world. Severine seems to find erotic satisfaction only in the repressed desire to be humilated and used sexually. She escapes into waking dreams where she enjoys being whipped, soiled with mud, and bound to trees. This lurid fantasy life leads her to seek employment as a part-time prostitute - but only during the day, before her husband gets home.
Complications arise when her double life is discovered by her husband's friend Henri Husson (Michel Piccoli), and when she finds herself the subject of a stalker - a dangerously obsessed customer named Marcel (Pierre Clementi), who also happens to be a violence-prone thief.
Though it sounds like fodder for a typical Hollywood "erotic thriller", what develops from these elements is a psychological study that, for all its depths, appears to remain moot about just what makes the main character tick.
Central to the film is Deneuve's work. Under Luis Bunuel's precise, disciplined direction, she delivers a performance that is icy, opaque, and ultimately heartbeaking. Yes, she seems distant, and that is precisely the point: the much talked-about ending, by its very ambiguity, shocks us with the revelation that we've been fooled all along. Severine is not unreadable because she is hiding dark motivations. Rather, she is a dreamy, empty vessel; abused as a child (as we see in subtle flashbacks), and acting out of nothing more than instincts she can neither hope, nor care to understand. The lights are on and nobody's home.
Her last, blissful smile as she enters one of the waking dream-states that pervade the film masks the hollowness of a human being squeezed dry of all her humanity by a life of denial, guilt, and empty materialism.
It's an emotional sucker punch - a romantic banality that underscores with bitter irony what a sad, empty life Severine has, and the great damage that has been done to her. The tremendous harm that her own actions have caused by this point is just a tragic ricochet.
All in all, Belle de Jour is a haunting piece of classic cinema. It may be Bunuel's masterpiece. It belongs in any serious movie fan's collection.
42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2005
"Belle de Jour" is generally considered to be director Luis Bunuel's masterpiece; a surprisingly revealing and seemingly personal venture into the world of eroticism and its deviances. It's a truly surrealistic exercise in ambiguity, fantasy, and reality. The line that separates them is blurred so much that the famously mysterious ending has had critics arguing for decades over its meaning.
The fantasy sequences are usually signalled by the sound of carriage bells, but by the end of the film the viewer is no longer able to differentiate between what is another one of Severine's fantasies and what is reality. Even Bunuel admitted to not knowing himself. He said that "by the end, the real and imaginary fuse; for me they form the same thing."
The gorgeous Catherine Deneuve, resplendent in her icy prime, portrays Severine Sevigny, the middle-class wife of Pierre, a doctor. She is frigid, virginal, yet seemingly happy enough in her bourgeoisie life and its trappings. However, upon hearing about a local clandestine brothel from a friend, she pays a visit to the madame, and becomes a prostitute, going by the name of "Belle de Jour", as she can only work in the afternoons. She apparently fully realizes and enjoys her sexuality, despite her guilty conscience, exclaiming that she "can't help it". She certainly doesn't need the money. She's bored with her life and her marriage, needing a "firm hand" to lead her; a need which the madame, Anais, who is obviously attracted to her, almost immediately recognizes. Her sweet and conventional husband is unaware, treating her much like a child, and the audience cannot help but believe that even if he knew of her true nature, he would not understand or empathize. She keeps her two worlds neatly separate until a patron of hers (whom she herself enjoys) becomes obsessed with her, and all is threatened.
That Alfred Hithcock in particular admired this film comes as no surprise to me; Deneuve would have been the perfect Hitchcock heroine: an icy blonde who becomes "a whore in the bedroom", as Hitchock was fond of saying he preferred in his leading ladies. But this remark is not meant to simplfy the story, its telling, or Deneuve's remarkable performance, which is what truly draws the viewer into the film.
"Belle de Jour" was Bunuel's first foray into the use of color, and he employed it to great effect. From the fall colors displayed in the landscape scenes, to the subtle shades in Deneuve's clothing, the contrasts are set. While the world around her explodes in glorious hues, Deneuve's character is defined by her couture, if staid, wardrobe of tan, black, and white.
"Belle de Jour" was unreleased for many years due to copyright problems, but finally re-released in 1995 through the efforts of director Martin Scorcese, and released on DVD in 2003. I've watched it twice in the past week and am still at a loss to describe it very well; suffice to say that I am in awe. It's an amazingly erotic film without any explicitness, and one that I expect hasn't lost any of its effect over the years. As the subject matter is handled very tactfully and without any actual sex scenes; a great deal is left to the viewer's imagination - which only serves the heighten the mysteries inherent at every turn in the film. The viewer is however drawn into the sense of feeling to be a voyeur into Severine's secret life; the careful choreography of scenes and camera angles contribute to the uncomfortable sense of intrusion by us, the viewers.
There are many sub-stories and small mysteries in the film; for instance one of the most widely debated upon by critics is the mystery of "what is in the Asian client's little box?" that he presents first to one prostitute, who quickly refuses, then to Severine, who tentatively agrees. All the audience know is that it's something with a insect-like noise, and when the client leaves, Severine is sprawled face-down upon the bed, the sheets thrown about, and obviously pleased with whatever took place in the interim.
"Belle de Jour" was awarded the Golden Lion at the 1967 Venice Film Festival, as well as the award for Best Foreign Film in 1968 from the New York Film Critics Circle.
Interesting side notes: Bunuel himself had a shoe fetish, which helps explain the numerous shots of Deneuve's beautifully clad feet throughout the film, and the fact that every time she goes shopping, she buys shoes. He also appears in the film in a cameo as a cafe patron, and in another scene his hands are shown loading a gun.
44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 1999
A maginificent erotic comedy. Bunuel directs with masterly assurance this icy comedy about a frigid housewife, Severine (Catherine Devenue) who goes to work at a Parisian brothel. Only here is she able to indulge in her masochistic desires by being forced to perform for her clientele. The sly joke is that her loving husband's patience and consideration is precisely NOT what she wants. She wants to keep her social respectability but needs the brothel as an outlet for her drives (Bunuel's point being the fairly well-worn one, even by that time, that bourgeois society has to suppress perversions and control female sexuality to maintain its power).
What's amazing is Bunuel's "respectable" treatment of this material. His cool and discrete approach brillantly contrasts with the frustrated sexual lives and fantasies we see on the screen. Brief nudity, no explicit sexual scenes, everything is done through inference and association. And what associations! Bunuel's playful surrealism is in full force here - witness the mysterious box - and his cast brings this eroticized world to life (along with Deneuve, the best performance comes from Genevieve Page as the most refined house madam you'll ever see). "Belle de Jour" is masterful piece of latter-day surrealism: it's a wonderful demonstration of the emotional anarchy at the root of sexual longing and the particularly tortured outlets people use to satisfy their needs. And yet the whole enterprise is discreetly charming - it's light at heart. This has to be the most elegantly dirty movie ever made.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
The premise of BELLE DU JOUR is well known. A young, beautiful, and slightly frigid doctor's wife (Catherine Deneuve) secretly harbors fantasies of being dominated, humiliated, and abused by her husband (Jean Sorel.) When these fantasies can no longer be denied, she becomes a prostitute under the sponsorship of a possibly lesbian madam (Geneviève Page), working during the afternoons while her husband is at his own work. Her sexuality is awakened by the sometimes brutish clients, who soon discover that "she likes it rough," and she is ultimately caught up a relationship with a truly dangerous client (Pierre Clémenti) whose possessiveness threatens to destroy both her and her husband.
Throughout the film Deneuve slips in and out of memory and fantasy, sometimes recalling herself as a possibly molested child, sometimes imagining herself as the victim in a series of sexual assault fantasies. Director Bunuel, whose masterpiece this is, so blurs the line between memory, reality, and fantasy that by the film's conclusion one cannot be sure if some, most, or everything about the film has been Deneuve's fantasy. Although it includes a number of impressive performances (particularly by Geneviève Page, her girls, and their clients), BELLE is essentially Deneuve's film from start to finish, and she gives an astonishing performance that cannot be easily described. Like the film itself, it is a balancing act between fantasy and a plausible reality that may actually be nothing of the kind. Bunuel presents both her and the film as a whole in an almost clinical manner, and is less interested in gaining our sympathy for the character than in presenting her as an object for intellectual observation.
Ultimately, BELLE DU JOUR seems to be about a lot of things, some of them obvious and some of them extremely subtle. And yet, given the way in which it undercuts its realities by blurring them with fantasy, it is also entirely possible that the film is not actually "about" anything except itself. Individuals who insist on clear-cut meanings and neatly wrapped conclusions will probably loathe it--but those prepared to accept the film on its own terms will find it a fascinating experience. Recommended.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Severine (Catherine Deneuve) is newly wed to a successful, young, handsome Parisian doctor, Pierre (Jean Sorel). He loves her deeply, but yearns for her to express her love in more sexual ways. Severine is chaste in her marriage, but her fantasy life is vivid and encompassing. She moves from reserve to abandonment in her mind, and we find ourselves involved in her life and her fantasies. She learns of a place where well-to-do, bored young wives play at being prostitutes. She's drawn to the idea and finally begins a hidden life from her husband, but only from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. She becomes Belle de Jour. She finds a need for released sexuality, and for humiliation and masochism. One of her clients is a young, tough hood with steel teeth, a sword cane and brutal manners. She's drawn to him, but who is using whom? She pulls back, and a confrontation may or may not be conclusive. Is it real, or another fantasy?
This is a great Bunuel film, sexual, serious, satirical. It's all about what's going on in Severine's head, and the erotic sexual life she lives. And its about sexual fantasies, most of which appear absurd when looked at. While Severine's story is fascinating, there is much of Bunuel's typical love of fetish at what he shows. The movie opens with Severine and Pierre taking a horse-drawn carriage ride into the country. The bells on the carriage begin to jingle and Pierre stops the carriage and orders the two drivers to pull Severine from the carriage, whip her and rape her. When did the fantasy in Severine's head start? In one scene Pierre and his saturnine friend played by Michel Piccoli are in the country and begin shoveling black, stinking mud into a pail. In the next instance we see Piccoli throwing handsfull of mud onto Severine, tied up and dressed in a virginal white gown. Throughout the movie the sounds of bells tinkling and cats mewing trigger a shift into erotic fantasy for Severine.
Bunuel's satiric look at mankind also shows through clearly. Severine, working afternoons as Belle de Jour, encounters a world famous gynecologist who dresses as a servant so he can be humiliated by a prostitute acting as the lady of the house. There is the large man with something in a small, enameled box that buzzes which makes one of the women say, "No," but which intrigues Severine. We never learn what's in the box. There is the duke who is aroused only when he can play the mourner with a woman pretending to be a corpse in an open casket. It all sounds grotesque, but it's funny, too. And there's not a moment of explicit sex in the film, and only a glimpse of partial nudity.
The movie is almost 40 years old and is still a fascinating look into Severine's life and her fantasies, and probably into ours as well. Deneuve is what makes the movie work. She may appear at first to be a perfectly groomed ice queen, but before long you know that a great deal is happening behind that face. Like Isabelle Huppert, she can imply serious, unsettling emotions just by looking calm.
The DVD picture is just fine; there's nothing wrong with it or the audio.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2002
'Belle De Jour' opens with a woman being dragged out of a landau by her husband and two coachmen, pushed into a forest, tied to a tree, stripped, viciously whipped and then assaulted. This shocking display of male violence and female submission, implicating characters, director and (desiring male) viewer, will become the film's main theme, but not in the way it first appears. As the film continues, Severine, a frigid, bourgeois wife, will be splattered with excrement, will lie in a coffin to stimulate a role-playing Duke, will work as a prostitute during the day, where she will meet an abusive lover. She shares a name with the heroine of Sacher-Masoch's 'Venus In Furs', that classic text of masochism, the pleasure in being abused. These instances of degradation and humiliation, however, are the perverse means of her liberation. In her perfect bourgeois world, with her perfect, handsome bourgeois husband, their well-appointed apartment, maid, rich friends, tennis clubs, expensive holidays and glamorous clothes, Severine is infantilised, treated like a child. She is cossetted, every desire pandered to until she has no (speakable) desire. She is mostly silent, rejecting that language-trap created for adults. When she visits her husband at work, she is a nuisance to be gently removed.
To regain or enact her desire, Severine becomes a prostitute. It is no accident in Bunuel that the worlds of sexuality and of work meet. In debasing her indolent bourgeois self, she finds her true self again. This split between middle-class courtesan and prostitute echoes the other splits in the film, that between mind and body, male and female, dream/fantasy and reality, past and present, city and country. Split, of course, is the wrong word - there are no absolutes in Bunuel, and these opposites meld and reinforce one another - as in a dream, every character, from the maid's child to the madame Anais to the diabolic Husson, is a plausible projection of Severine. Besides the fantasies of debasement and weird sex Severine indulges, are flashbacks to her childhood (or reimaginings of her past?), with incidents of paedophilia and sacrilege, Severine trying, as now, to resist male authority figures manipulating her 'innocence', sexually and socially.
'Belle De Jour' is seen as the opening gambit of Bunuel's celebrated late period, that series of glossy, big-budget, usually French films with big stars. But filming a glossy milieu is not the same as being a glossy film, and 'Belle', with the hard functionality of a Bresson, has the same mix of rigorous detachment, tight concentration and intense subversive subjectivity as Bunuel's best work, in this case surface smoothness being constantly broken down. In that first scene, we watch, without context, violence inflicted on a woman. Through the subsequent film, Severine will learn not only to look for herself (and see things we can't), but also take the power of shaping the film, blurring its boundaries. Catherine Deneuve's intensely private, unyielding performance is the film's soul, with only that famous smirk of satisfaction after the businessman with the unseen toy, tantalising us into answers.
Though primarily a Surrealist social comedy, 'Belle De Jour' is also a Gothic film, from that opening Hammer-horror sequence; to its narrative fractured by dreams; to its interest in double identities, broken bodies and the conflict between desire and duty, sex and spirit, sex and death; to its castles and Sadean figures. But it is also a marvellously funny parody of Godard's 'Breathless' - the gangster sub-plot is announced by a seller barking 'New York Herald Tribune'; concerns a posing young hoodlum agonising over an unattainable woman; hinges on betrayal and a pastiche denouement that out-sillies the original. Godard would repay the favour later that year with his most Bunuellian film, 'Week End'.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2012
Criterion's foray into high-definition transfers has, thus far, set the standard for the medium and Belle Du Jour is no exception to that. The palette is crisp, the details sharp and, while not reaching the height of clarity that 8 1/2 did, is definitely a credit to the medium. The film itself, of course, is a truly engaging journey through one persons pathology and, in true Bunuel fashion, left turns and surreal imagery abounds. Suffice it to say, this is the best version of the one of the best films of all time. How can you go wrong?
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2002
"Belle De Jour" by the great Luis Bunuel is the best example of what true eroticism is in the cinema. It is an exquisite, seductive and stylish, also surreal, fantasy that enraptures us by not only picking at the main character's brain, but at ours as well. This is not a movie about sex, or at least, the physical aspects of it, this is a movie about the idea and fantasy of sex, it delivers the reason why we're attracted to sexuality or sexually stimulating images in the first place. This also makes it a rare psychological movie. Some may say it is also a perfect portrait of the masochist woman, and this indeed may be true (Bunuel was a big fan of the Marquis De Sade) considering Severine (the lovely Catherine Deneuve), we notice, is especially turned on by the violent aspects of what she is doing more than the secretive. This is required viewing for fans of erotica, surrealism and brilliant filmmaking. Notice how Bunuel sets a completely seductive air without a single sex scene, this movie shames trash like "Caligula" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien." Here is one of the masters giving a lesson on what is erotic. Much of what we perceive as sexually alluring (weather it may be "twisted" or "normal") is born in our imaginations and this is one point Bunuel makes, it is Severine's fantasies that really drive the movie. Visually the movie is very stylish with the elegant clothing, settings and of course, Deneuve, one of the beauties of her time. There are the usual Bunuel touches, bizaare scenes of surrealism (as when Severine is caked in mud by her husband before a herd of bulls in a dream sequence) and shots following Severine's feet (Bunuel was a well-known foot fetishist). His brilliance for characters and scenarios is here too, giving complex deliveries with simple-looking set-ups. Bunuel remains one of the giants of filmmaking, having made the notorious and classic 1929 surrealist film with Salvador Dali, "Un Chien Andalou" with the famous image of a razor slicing a woman's eyeball. His Mexican films like the highly influential "Los Olvidados" and the controversial "Virdiana" are also hypnotic gems, but when he returned to European filmmaking in the late 60s his career really took off and "Belle De Jour" is one of those first great masterpieces. It is a movie done with style, taste and truth.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 1999
This is one of the best Catherine Deneuve films. I mean, I hate to tag her with the usual stereotypical arguement that this single movie can represent her entire career, because she's played many parts that contradict that. However, it does represent her ability to express all of her curdling emotions with one single gaze. At first, the film might sound a little unconventional. It's the story of a doctor's wife that is unable to respond to her husband's love, and decides to live out her desires by working the afternoons in a bourgeois Parisian brothel. Some people have even called it dated. This may all be true, but in my opinion, the acting of Catherine Deneuve and Genevieve Page(playing Madame Anais who runs the brothel) is enough to snap you into this surrealistic world where fantasies become realities. Or do they...That's the other thing. Through the entire film, we are taken on this ride through the mind of the young Severine and her seemingly masochistic fantasies. The fantasies are utimately acted out when she goes to work at the brothel, but with the ever presence of this shady line between fantasy and reality, we rarely know when to treat a fantasy as ficticious as we should. The dreams allow the viewer to use their imagination without feeling guilty. Due to the stylish surroundings, the gorgeous people (except for that guy with Hippolyte, cause he was nasty), and the wonderful direction of Luis Bunuel, you can't really blame anyone who decides to change their day job. This movie is the perfect chocolate that us convicts need to open up.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2002
I have this on video already and love it but I also bought the dvd version also because they offered an interview with Catherine! Guess what, it's not included on this disc. I am soo disapointed! Maybe Amazon should take that bit of information out on its advertisment.
I'm a Deneuvianfan.