Belle de Jour - Luis Buñuel

Half a Century of Famous Films: Belle de Jour

Luis Buñuel (1900-1983), one of the greatest film authors of all time, was Spanish but made most of his films in Mexico and France. He started his film career in late 1920’s with his surrealist films such as An Andalusian Dog (Un chien andalou, 1929) and Age of Gold (L'âge d'or, 1930). In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, in order to revive his directing career, he proved that he is capable of shaping his extremely autonomous film and worldviews into interesting films that have a consistent storyline and appeal to the wide audience. However, in the 1960’s European cinema was abundant with diverse topics and styles. Besides the modernism of the French new wave, social criticism of the British social realism, originality and innovation of East European film, especially Czech and Hungarian, as well as the great authors such as Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini, both the producers and the audience were ready to accept Buñuel’s avant-garde style that relied heavily on surrealism, that he was most fond of, but also borrowed some procedures from the new wave as well as other unconventional directors of that time. He achieved his peak half a century ago with master piece Belle de jour. It is one of his best as well as most popular films.

This film was so popular due to the director’s talent and the favorable climate for researching new forms of film expression, but even more so thanks to the at the time twenty-three-year-old Catherine Deneuve, who already enjoyed the status of a real star of French and European film. She plays Séverine, a young woman in a conventional marriage with Pierre (played by popular actor Jean Sorel). However, thing are not as they seem as, already in the introduction scene, we see Pierre, who, during a ride in a carriage, orders the driver to stop, tie Séverine to a tree, whip and then rape her. Nevertheless, this turns out to be only Séverine’s fantasy but she does in fact satisfy her tendency for sexual perversion and masochism by spending her free early afternoons working as a prostitute in Madame Anaïs’s place (played by Geneviève Page), under the name „Belle de Jour“.  Many other famous actors appear in smaller roles in this film - Michel Piccoli, Pierre Clémenti, Francisco Rabal, Françoise Fabian, Macha Méril. This is the adaptation of Joseph Kessel’s novel on which Buñuel worked together with one of the greatest Frensh screenwriters of all time Jean-Claude Carrière. They were additionally inspired by de Sade’s understanding of erotica and questioned the deepest corners of subconscious mind. However, the most important thing is that in this film, together with the cinematographer Sacha Vierny, the director treats the reality and the phantasmagoric in the same way and does not superimpose either of those worlds. This may indicate that a man cannot perceive reality or that the fantasy from our subconscious mind determine our character and behavior more strongly that the “objective” reality for we which we may not be sure if it really exists. However, that is only one of the possible interpretations of this brilliant film by Buñuel that resists an unambiguous interpretation, while simultaneously awing us with its visual beauty and complexity of the imaginary film world. (Tomislav Kurelec)