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Belle de Jour

Director: Luis Buñuel

FRANCE • 1966 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • 100 MIN


BELLE DE JOUR (1966) WAS THE FIRST IN A STRING OF MASTERPIECES CELEBRATING DIRECTOR LUIS BUÑUEL’S RETURN TO EUROPEAN FILM-MAKING FROM EXILE IN MEXICO.
It’s based on a 1928 novel by Joseph Kessel, in which a young woman becomes aware of her body for the first time as the result of an illness. Hitherto happily married in a wellbred sort of way, she now discovers within herself irresistible urges which drive her to spend her afternoons (hence her designation as a ‘daytime beauty’) in a brothel, pursuing a part-time career that is imperilled when she becomes passionately involved with a brutish young thug. Unlike Kessel, to whom he otherwise remains essentially faithful, Buñuel offers no explanation of the wife’s sudden discovery of her physical needs. But as the woman (Catherine Deneuve at her most enigmatic) proceeds on her odyssey of discovery through humiliation and gratification, Buñuel’s quirkish sense of humour embroiders details—the chirping box containing some unnameable aid to sadism, the coffin employed to satisfy the erotic fancies of a duke mourning his daughter—that inhabit a weird twilight world in which fact and fantasy gradually shade into each other, each taking on the other’s protective colouring. A scabrous surrealist fairytale, Belle de Jour defies logical analysis but it does have meaning. The final scene (a complete departure from Kessel) suggests an exorcism of the wife’s forbidden desires and intimates that she has at last found a balance between the two kinds of love she has been desperately juggling.—Tom Milne.

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