DVD Review: Belle de Jour

Belle de Jour DVDSTUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Luis Buñuel | CAST: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Genevieve Page, Pierre Clementi
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 1/17/2012 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $39.95
BONUSES: new commentary, featurette and interview; vintage French TV clip
NR | 100 min. | Foreign language drama | 1.66:1 widescreen | monaural | French with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Luis Buñuel’s (Viridinia) first color film, 1967’s Belle de Jour remains the filmmaker’s most provocative work, as darkly funny as it is challengingly psychological as it is downright erotic … and funny … and undeniably disturbing. True, the movie’s story might not play as shockingly today as it did nearly 50 years ago,  but who cares?

Belle du Jour movie scene

Catherine Deneuve is a Parisian housewife up against a psychological wall in Belle du Jour.

The film puts us into the head of the beautiful Séverine (Catherine Deneuve, Potiche), a bourgeoisie Parisian housewife who loosens up — emotionally or sexually — with her young doctor husband (Jean Sorel). To that end, Séverine joins a local brothel, where she serves as a prostitute during the day before returning to her chilly nighttime life at home.

Séverine’s festishistic experiences with various clients at the brothel — including a gynecologist (Marcel Charvey), a wealthy businessman (Francis Blanche) and a high-octane gangster (Pierre Clémenti) — unleash a series of fantasies in her head (as well as ours). The fantasies might even be stronger and steamier than the “daydream” realities Séverine is living at the brothel.

Buñuel the Surrealist firmly plants us in his home turf in Belle je Jour. The movie is a tunnel into Séverine’s subconscious, filled with the filmmaker’s trademark imagery and open-ended ponderings. Memorably, at one point, a herd of bulls, one named “Expiation, the others called “Remorse,” stampede through Séverine’s head,  representing two of countless  possible futures. Whew! But our journey through the tunnel is a one-way trip and, like all exquisite puzzles, no easy answers are provided. We have to decide whether our heroine is moving in the right direction, in her head and with her body. But is there a right direction?

The beautifully remastered DVD (gorgeous colors!) includes a fine collection of bonus features, notably a new featurette, “That Obscure Source of Desire,” wherein activist/writer/”sexpert” Susie Bright offers her take on the films, and a new interview with co-writer and frequent Buñuel collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere.

The DVD also has an excellent commentary by Princeton professor Michael Wood, an enthusiastic fan of the movie who penned the 2001 BFI Film Classic book Belle de Jour. Wood offers an in-depth discussion of all aspects of the film, which he describes as the one that kicked off Buñuel’s “late period” wherein his reputation garnered him better budgets and bigger stars. Most interestingly, Wood contrasts Belle de Jour’s fantasy passages, the ones that unfold inside Séverine’s mind, with its reality sequences. He proposes that viewers might mistake one for the other and that what we’re accepting as “reality” might actually be one of Séverine’s fantasies — a fantasy reflecting her view of reality.

Surreal, man….

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.