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Belle De Jour (Criterion) back to product details

3 Things
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written by randomcha January 21, 2008 - 7:44 AM PST
1 out of 2 members found this review helpful
1. Pigeons on the street when she first approaches the House of Anais.
2. The orange, cut in half, on the tray that Severine brings over to Pierre.
3. The sounds of the cat at the beginning of the funeral ritual.

Ambiguity and Innuendo
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written by nathan August 18, 2003 - 3:53 PM PDT
8 out of 9 members found this review helpful
In this Rorschach-ink-blot-of-a-film, Catherine Deneuve portrays a virginal newlywed with a troubled past. In a series of momentary flashbacks we are privy to her childhood molestation. These intercut her gradual movement from her "cloistered" social position to her new-found work at a high-brow Parisian brothel. The transformation would seem highly suspect, but Bu˝uel manages to explain it while leaving some viewers room to dismiss it.

Severine's (Deneuve's) childhood abuse seems to have two basic influences on her adult life. First, she is uninterested in sexual intimacies with her husband of one year. Second, her fantasy life is filled with episodes in which her husband facilitates and, sometimes, witnesses the domination and degradation of his wife.

The first of these fantasy interludes opens the film. This sets the whole work on unreliable footing. One is never sure whether what is transpiring on the screen is "really happening." Later this doubt serves to minimize the shock of some of the more unpleasant episodes. Initially, however, the viewer is caught unaware. One accepts the actions on the screen as diagetically "real."

The viewer is thrust into a position analogous to that of Severine. This opening sequence, the other fantasy sequences in the film, and the film's conclusion all allow one to entertain the possibility that none of what one sees on the screen is anything more than a dream or fantasy created in Severine's mind. Bu˝uel grants us the option of denial and escape from what might otherwise be a disturbing reality.

Alternately, by relegating only the most obviously "phantasmagorical" interludes to the realm of a "dream" or delusion, Belle de Jour becomes a portrait of a series of "social ills." There appear to be no obvious cures beyond the path Severine embarks on (psychological escape). Responding to Bu˝uel's "Rorschach" in this manner opens some complex issues, many of which are eloquently stated and then painfully unresolved by the film.

A short time after the momentary flashback that introduces us to Severine's childhood molester, a second momentary flashback captures the young Severine's rejection of the social conventions that have provided the context in which she has been abused. Repeatedly asked to accept the wafer during communion, she resolutely refuses. The implication is that Severine wishes to reject the myriad of ills being perpetrated on her. The molestation is the most concrete; the Church, the most symbolic.

Another telling pairing of interludes occur approximately one third and two-thirds of the way through the film. In the first instance, before she has fully explored the possibility of working at a brothel, Severine asks her husband whether he has ever been to "those houses." At first he politely misunderstands her. Then he describes briefly his experiences with prostitution. She shrinks at his brief description and the episode ends.

Later, after Severine has been thoroughly indoctrinated into various non-vanilla aspects of human sexuality (at least as "strange" as her unsettling fantasy life) by way of her work at the brothel, she reaches a new level of insight into herself, her sexuality and her husband/marriage. She says to her increasingly sexually satisfied husband that she feels like she is getting closer to him and that she is understanding him better and better each day. What she doesn't say to him (but what is clearly underlying her transformation) is that her time spent in the brothel is bringing her closer to her husband, who is ignorant of her "day job."

It is in this transformation that the film may be most interesting. Bu˝uel seems to suggest that a natural outcome of childhood sexual abuse is both an inability to engage in "vanilla" sex acts and a predilection for other sexual interactions. At the same time, Belle de Jour implies that one "solution" to such a situation is embrace non-traditional/"norm"al/middle-class sexuality. The inability of the thoughtful viewer to easily dismiss Bu˝uel's portrayal of this situation creates a complex, challenging Rorschach test that, as usual, says more about the viewer than about Bu˝uel.

You might also enjoy...
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written by mdraine May 5, 2003 - 9:48 PM PDT
5 out of 12 members found this review helpful
Doris Wishman's Bad Girls Go to Hell is everything I expected Belle du Jour to be, based on a reverential NY Times review of the Bunuel film. Don't waste another moment -- rent Bad Girls Go to Hell! This is not a joke. --Michael Draine

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(Average 7.39)
495 Votes
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