Saturday, March 3, 2012
The Daylight Beauty.
Director: Luis Buñuel
Written by: Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Genevieve Page, Pierre Clementi, Françoise Fabian, Macha Meril.
Running time: 101 min.
How does one start a review for a Luis Buñuel film? After seeing The Exterminating Angel for the first time, I though I had enough to piece together a review, but once I hit the keyboard, nothing was forming into anything that made sense. No, it wasn't writers block - it was the simple fact that Luis Buñuel's work isn't easily interpreted by words. Well, words that make sense, anyway. Now, I've only seen two of his films so far, but I like how darn strange they are. The other day, my English teacher said that when we go to the movies we are asked to "suspend our disbelief". That is exactly the key with Buñuel. While Belle de Jour may not need much suspension of your disbelief like The Exterminating Angel does, there is plenty of ambiguity to wonder and wonder and wonder about.
Belle de Jour stars the impossibly beautiful Catherine Deneuve, two years after her sexual repression thriller Repulsion, as young housewife Séverine Serizy. She is happy in her marriage, but hasn't achieved anything sexually, though she has masochistic fantasies. One day, she comes across a brothel, and decides to spend her afternoons working there as a prostitute named Belle de Jour. At night, she returns to her blissfully unaware husband, who she hopes to keep the secret from for as long as possible. However, there is only so long that her secret can remain uncovered, and a client, young gangster Marcel (Pierre Clementi) threatens to do just that when he demands that she run away and live her life with him.
Made just out of reach of the days when the production code ruled the film world, the film doesn't exactly present the no-holds-barred sexuality that you would probably see in a film from today. It uses subtlety as it's key, presenting a wholly erotic yet demure masterpiece. It's much more of an observation of the life of a secret prostitute rather than offering any hard-hitting, generally depressing narrative which is usually used in a film like this. Séverine is a character who is basically running around in a revolving door where she comes across many men with strange desires, wanting total control over her, and she succumbs to each one of them for that short time. Only, she's hoping that the revolving door goes fast enough so that a) her husband doesn't find out and b) she can get away from the privileged, yet isolated life she lives with him. She is a woman of two lives, and aside from those early moments where she's just getting into the business, you never see an ounce of Séverine coming through in Belle de Jour...which is strange, or somewhat bewildering to see...but Catherine Deneuve plays it all out so well.
The beauty of Belle de Jour, though, is in its impeccable pacing. Considering the amount of ambiguity scattered throughout the entire film, the film needed to be paced to perfection, so the audience still had something to chew on if they were left blind-sided by everything else. Being one of those observational films, it doesn't have a clear narrative but what it has to say is slightly unsettling, and in that revolving door that Séverine finds herself in is a constant array of problems arising in her clandestine lifestyle. When Marcel comes to the party, it is quite late in the film, even though it could arguably the largest plot point of the film. You would expect needless exposition and at least ten minutes devoted to their 'relationship' to show that he was going to truly move in on her, but Buñuel deals with it in a realistic fashion - that revolving door just keeps on going and people don't stay around before they decide that it needs to switch directions. Then you have the fantasy excerpts, and the final scene...nothing is definitely as it seems, and you could have twenty different explanations which will never make complete sense. But somehow, it doesn't matter. The intense beauty of both what is on screen and Deneuve, and the way that Buñuel makes you wonder yourself into oblivion is intoxicating - an experience which cannot be perfectly put into coherent words.
What I got: