Corridors of erotic fantasies help Séverine (Catherine Deneuve) navigate the confines of her private and public life. Or, as the original trailer says: ‘a divorce between the soul and the flesh.’ Séverine has been married to her doctor husband, Pierre (Jean Sorel) for one year: she has little interest in passion, just the idea of romance and someone to take care of her. So much so, that on one occasion we see her ask him ‘to sit with her’ while she falls into sleep.
Bourgeois, beautiful and bored, Séverine can do little to change her class and her looks (and naturally, she doesn’t want to). However, she can indulge in detailed masochistic fantasies, like being tied to a tree and whipped, or having cattle shit slung at her. These scenes take Séverine to another place, beautifully and disturbingly choreographed by director Luis Buñuel. They form the core architecture of Belle de Jour, and yet they shake us.
Séverine is the blonde ice-princess in her public life: she is distant, even with female friends, and shows admirable contempt for the family-friend who reveals a sexual interest in her. She is a woman who’s distracted: her mind is elsewhere and only we, the viewer, can share her sexual thoughts.
In an attempt to bridge the gap between public and private (or from another perspective, to commence the divorce between her soul and her flesh), Séverine starts to work in a brothel. ‘Madame’ names her ‘Belle de Jour’ because she is only available in the day. Unsurprisingly Séverine’s relationship with her husband improves. She enjoys a brief moment of unity with him, before one of her clients starts to make things difficult …
As with many of Buñuel’s films the director is taking a firm, stylish shot at the bourgeoisie. In Belle de Jour it is presented as a northern-scape, a chilly territory of control and repression. Séverine’s choice to take a risk makes her the moving glacier, cracking the ice and allowing the sun to shine through. Buñuel’s brightness reveals complication and release, and is radiant cinema.
Director: Luis Buñuel (1967)