Wednesday, December 9, 2015
CANON OF FILM: "BELLE DE JOUR"
BELLE DE JOUR (1967)
Director: Luis Bunuel
Screenplay: Luis Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere based on the novel by Joseph Kessel
Even Luis Bunuel, the film’s surrealist director, film’s version of Salvador Dali, admits that he has no idea what the ending of “Belle de Jour,” means. I have my own theories, although I can’t claim I’m positive either, but it makes sense that the ending can’t be explained, since the movies core theme is about that aspects of one’s human psyche that can’t be explained, fetishes. Most films about sex, and for matter most films that are in any way, shape, or form about anything related to, or seem to appear to say something about sex usually play like the male director’s masturbatory fantasies and don’t have any particular depth outside of that. (see: Zalman King) “Belle de Jour” doesn’t have any explicit sexual scenes, but is widely considered the most erotic film ever made because it’s not about just the physical actions of sex, but of one’s appeal and fascinations and interest in it.
The movie opens with what seem like an average scene of a husband and wife in a horse-drawn carriage through a wooded area until the wife Severine (the oh-my-god-she’s-beautiful Catherine Deneuve) gets her hand tied to the top of a tree, has the back of her dress ripped off and is then continually whipped by two men before her husband (Joel Sorel) finally grabs hold of her from behind. This is a dream sequence of Severine, she has another later where she imagines being tied up inside a barn and farmers throw pig slop on her while she's wearing the whitest of white dresses. Also purring in and out of scenes is the sound of a carriage bell and even more prevalent, the constant sound of a cat meowing, neither of which are ever explain, because like all fetishes, there is no logical explanation fir them. They are what turns Severine on. She is a “pure,” wife of Pierre, who’s adores her purity, and although Severine loves him, her fantasy life and dreams lead her to a Paris brothel an acquaintance mentioned where housewives work at during the day when their husbands are at work. (“Belle de Jour,” mean beauty of morning, but is also a French flower that only blooms in sunlight and falls at night) Dressed in black like a funeral to try to get a job, from Madame Anais (Genevieve Page). She soon leaves in fright, but her curiosity gets the best of her and eventually starts working out. A famous sequence involves a Japanese customer who has a box that he opens and shows to the girls, including Severine. One girl refuses and leaves, the others are somewhat curious, but we never see just what was in there, we only know it’s of a sexual pleasure and importance to the Japanese customer. Severine’s fetish is humiliation. She’s from a very upscale world, but chooses to work as a prostitute in broad daylight, hoping to get caught, as well as insulted and tossed aside and having customers treat her as badly as she wants. In one moment, although disgusted at what she sees, she becomes fascinated by one girl dominating and humiliating a customer, as she watches through a peephole. Another famous scene shows her after a particularly rough and mean customer has left her laid on the bed motionless after apparent anal sex. To a 1967 audience, everyone is amazed that after he leaves the room, she pokes her head up and reveals an excited and cheery smile.
Her favorite customer is Marcel (Pierre Clementi), an early-twenties gangster who she begins having an affair with, he thinks out of love, although to Severine, he’s about as useful as any dildo, only he continual puts her down and insults her continually. Deneuve was about 23 when the film was made, and this film not only showed her impeccable beauty as a world-renowned sex symbol, but as one of France’s leading actresses. Bunuel had been working at this point for over four decades, and he would work for a decade more; he was 67 when this was made. An old man with numerous films and life experiences knowing more about the sexual psyche than most of the teens and twenty-somethings of the apparent sexual revolution of the time. I chalk it up to age or experience though, Bunuel knew that which is and or isn’t sexual is limited by our most erotic organ, the mind, for it is what controls all our fetishes. To rephrase Descarte rather abundantly, we think therefore we like, and we like it, because, we just do.