Belle de Jour (1967)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:


Blindfold: Acts of Obsession



Belle de Jour

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Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

We hope you're reading this review before you actually decide to watch Belle de Jour. Surrealist Luis Bunuel's 1967 film works from the standpoint that real art makes the audience work to understand it. As a result, watching Belle de Jour can be an exercise in confusion (as if reading the subtitles weren't work enough). However, once all is said and done, this film has some fascinating things to say about the human psyche and the complex emotional mechanics of love and sex.

Belle de Jour stars Catherine Deneuve as a bored housewife, Severine, with an adoring doctor husband who thinks the world of her. Although her daydream sequences are sometimes hard to distinguish from "real" occurrences, we gradually understand that Severine desires a more passionate and sultry (and one might say kinky) relationship than her current marriage affords her. These daydreams invariably cast her in a less-than-virtuous role, often facing abuse at the hands of her husband, who treats her like a saint in real life. Despite her fantasies about him, Severine is incapable of loving her husband physically.

The real development of Severine's character begins when she seeks out and comes into the employ of an elite brothel, taking the name 'Belle de Jour' (because she only works during the day from 2 to 5) and catering sexually to her customers. At first there is an internal struggle between her sexual fascination, which made her come to the brothel in the first place, and her housewife sensibilities, which reject the morals of the things she is required to do as a prostitute. Later, there are troubles with the clientele, which threaten her life as a housewife. However, Severine is able to have sex with these men because they don't view her as a virtuous woman.

This is the crux of the entire film: Severine doesn't want to be worshipped, as her husband worships her. When you understand this, you begin to figure out what it is that Bunuel wants to say.

Stylistically, Belle de Jour is a film that seems to be edited with the frustration of the audience in mind -- which may very well be the case, given that Bunuel is our director. Daydreams intrude upon "real life" even into the last seconds of the movie, and although the things that happen might or might not be real, they all have an impact on the events in Severine's life. When something straightforward happens (a gunfight, for example), it is almost a relief -- finally, something we understand!

We wouldn't classify Belle de Jour as entertainment. It is a poetic, sad movie with an ending that could be described as uplifting, but it's not something you'd want to watch for a Saturday night date. As a film about human nature, though, we can recommend it without reservation.

Review date: 12/09/1996

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