BELLE DE JOUR (Luis Buñuel, 1967)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
August 1-3, $14
Series runs through August 14
Luis Buñuel’s alluringly psychosexual masterpiece Belle de Jour caused a sensation when it was released in 1967 because of its heavy dose of sadomasochism mixed with tender love, and with good reason. The film stars the always elegant Catherine Deneuve as Séverine Serizy, a bored housewife who deeply loves her husband, Dr. Pierre Serizy (Jean Sorel), despite their nearly nonexistent sex life; they even sleep in separate beds in the same room. The twenty-three-year-old blonde beauty has intense daydreams of being tortured and raped, the lasting effects of perhaps having been abused as a child, so when she learns of a high-class Paris brothel, she decides to investigate, tantalized by the exciting possibilities. Soon she is known as Belle de jour, “lady of the afternoon,” as men come to lie down with her in the middle of the day, leaving her enough time to get home for her workaholic husband. At first Séverine is terrified of the job, but she is calmed down by Madame Anaïs (Geneviève Page) and eventually finds herself enjoying these secret trysts, so much so that the money doesn’t even matter, only the sensual pleasure she experiences. But when one of her clients, the unpredictable and dangerous thief Marcel (Pierre Clémenti), starts falling for her, her life turns more complicated than she’s ever imagined in all her dark yet playful fantasies.
Based on the 1928 novel by Joseph Kessel, whose L’armée des ombres was turned into Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 French Resistance drama Army of Shadows, Belle de Jour features a sizzling yet subdued performance by Deneuve, who would go on to star in Buñuel’s Tristana, which echoes this film in many ways (as does Roman Polanski’s Repulsion). Deneuve, wonderfully clad in Yves Saint Laurent, goes from hot to cold in an instant, her eyes regularly lost in faraway thought, distant and forlorn. Buñuel comments on class and society not only through Séverine and Pierre’s relationship but through several bordello customers with very specific fetishes, including Michel Piccoli as supposed ladies’ man Henri Husson, a role he reprised in Manoel de Oliveira’s ill-advised 2006 sequel, Belle Toujours. Buñuel won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for his erotically charged story that features a shocking surprise ending that offers new insights upon repeat viewings. Belle de Jour is screening August 1-3 as part of BAMcinématek’s five-week tribute to the master filmmaker, who passed away in 1983 at the age of eighty-three. The series continues through August 14 with such other Buñuel works as Diary of a Chambermaid, Mexican Bus Ride, The Great Madcap, That Obscure Object of Desire, The River and Death, and the superb twin pairing of The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert.