Belle De Jour
DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by Luis Bunuel
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Michel Piccoli, Genevieve Page
The Criterion Collection
Release date: January 17, 2012
When digging through the history of film, very few filmmakers had quite the career of one Luis Bunuel. The surrealist icon first started in the short film medium (giving the world classics like Un Chien Andalou) only to get behind some of the most intriguing pictures of his generation, none of the cult auteur’s canon may be quite as beloved as his fantastical Belle De Jour.
Featuring Bunuel’s patented themes of human desire and pleasure, Belle feels like the physical manifestation of each and every single aspect of the surrealist belief structure, all in the guise of one of the most beautiful and complex pieces of narrative from one of film’s most interesting directors.
Starring the equally enticing and always breathtaking Catherine Deneuve, the film finds our lead in the role of Severine, a housewife with a penchant for daydreaming about some rather, well, erotic ideas. Dreaming of spending hours in a bordello, Severine is a woman both excited by the idea of sexual experimentation, but also unsure of what may come of it. A film that allows the viewer to take away from it a detailed list of topics, Belle is a gorgeously poetic film from one of cinema’s greatest surrealist poets.
The biggest star of this film is far and away Deneuve. Entrenching this role with a stark sense of realism and self realization, Severine is a woman wholly unhappy with where her life is at her current state, as well as being one not afraid to dream about how to alter that. Released in 1967, the movie hit the zeitgeist at a time where sexual mores were beginning to be challenged, and where taboos were being shattered, with Belle encompassing this willingness to challenge what is deemed “normal” embodied in the tense little turn from the blonde bombshell. She’s the right bit of gorgeous and the right bit of innocent that makes the fantasy sequences framed by this film so moving and truly haunting, so much so, that they are nearly impossible to find as anything other than viscerally effecting and devastating.
Bunuel is not to be ignored either, however. Belle is a difficult film to describe, but it’s one whose influence is still being felt today. The film is so deftly able to blend the fantastic aspect of the film, or at least the lead character’s fantasy sequences, as well as the moments set within the piece’s “real” world, that it makes the two feel wholly and utterly interchangeable. Save for some amazingly visceral smash and jump cuts to mark the change between the settings, the film seamlessly blends the two without any problem.
However, Belle truly thrives when Bunuel allows the piece to be as dramatically erotic as the erotic drama can truly be. Looking at a cavalcade of themes that Bunuel himself discussed throughout his lengthy filmmaking career, Belle is at times a beautifully sexy piece of drama starring one of film’s most angelic faces, whilst also being something truly haunting. A look into the life of a woman who finds herself simply bored with her current state of existence, the film studies a character who is willing to go to any extreme, be it being tied up to a tree or raped, to thrust some sort of excitement into her life. This sense of perpetual boredom is as terrifying an idea as any masked baddie or gun toting villain that cinema has to offer, and it’s tonally perfect thanks to the guidance of Bunuel.
The movie, now thankfully on DVD and Blu-ray via The Criterion Collection, has never looked better either. Bunuel is a filmmaker best known for his themes, but his filmmaking really shines here. His ability to show us the most brutal sequences one could imagine, all in the body of a gorgeous character study is stunning. Each frame as a lyrical nature to it, one that is as poetic as any surrealist piece that the auteur found himself the proprietor of throughout his career. With cinematography from Sacha Vierny, the film truly pops off the screen, with Deneuve’s performance being the real take away here. Covered in Yves Saint Laurent, Deneuve’s performance is a blank one, allowing for each viewer to be thrust into a world where their wildest fantasies and their most secret passions may ultimately be fulfilled. All set against the back drop of an aging mansion, the film plays like a mix of Jean Rollin eroticism (five of the cult French filmmaker’s films will be hitting Blu-ray as well this month) with the surrealism found within the films of earlier Bunuel or the paintings of the artist, and sometimes Bunuel collaborator, Salvador Dali. Brilliant. I think that’s what that would be called.
This release is absolutely stacked. Along with the standard reference quality transfer both visually and audibly, the film features a really interesting, if a bit dry, commentary from author Michael Wood, who wrote the BFI Film Classics book based upon this film. The commentary is both insightful, if not quite the most entertaining of audio tracks. There is an interview with writer Jean-Claude Carriere, whose screenplay for the film is at the core of what makes this piece so damn brilliant. Another interview with Carriere is featured here, from a show entitled Cinema, which also featured an interview with Deneuve. Finally, the capper here has to be a new video piece featuring scholar Linda Williams, and well known activist Susie Bright, looking deeper into the sexuality of the piece. It’s a really great bit of reference material for the film, and something that any fan should watch following a viewing of the movie, to help reach a better understanding of just what Bunuel had attempted to do.
Overall, there’s not much else to say other than, why have you not already gone out and bought this sucker yet? What are you waiting for?