Belle de Jour
BELLE DE JOUR
Director: Luis Buñuel
Production: Paris Film, Five Films (Rome); Eastmancolor; running time: 100 minutes. Released 1967.
Producers: Robert Hakim, Raymond Hakim; production manager: Henri Baum; screenplay: Luis Buñuel, Jean-Claude Carrière, based on the novel by Joseph Kessel; assistant directors: Pierre Lary, Jacques Fraenkel; photography: Sacha Vierny; editor: Walter Spohr; sound: Rene Longuet; art director: Robert Clavel.
Cast: Catherine Deneuve (Séverine); Jean Sorel (Pierre); Michel Piccoli (Henri Husson); Geneviève Page (Mme. Anaïs); Francisco Rabal (Hyppolite); Pierre Clémenti (Marcel); Georges Marchal (The Duke); Françoise Fabian (Charlotte); Maria Latour (Mathilde); Francis Blanche (Monsieur Adolphe); Macha Méril (Renée); Muni (Pallas); François Maistre (The Professor); Bernard Fresson (Le Grêle); Dominique Dandrieux (Catherine); Brigitte Parmentier (Séverine as a Child); Michel Charrel (Footman); D. de Roseville (Coachman); Iska Khan (Asian Client); Marcel Charvey (Professor Henri); Pierre Marcay (Intern); Adélaide Blasquez (Maid); Marc Eyraud (Barman); Bernard Musson (Majordomo).
Buñuel, Luis, and Jean-Claude Carrière, Belle de jour, London, 1971; also published in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), April 1978.
Durgnat, Raymond, Luis Buñuel, Berkeley, 1968; revised edition, 1977.
Buache, Freddy, Luis Buñuel, Lyons, 1970; as The Cinema of Luis Buñuel, New York and London, 1973.
Aranda, José Francisco, Luis Buñuel: A Critical Biography, London and New York, 1975.
Cesarman, Fernando, El ojo de Buñuel, Barcelona, 1976.
Mellen, Joan, editor, The World of Luis Buñuel: Essays in Criticism, New York, 1978.
Bazin, Andre, The Cinema of Cruelty: From Buñuel to Hitchcock, New York, 1982.
Edwards, Gwynne, The Discreet Art of Luis Buñuel: A Reading of His Films, London, 1982.
Buñuel, Luis, My Last Breath, London and New York, 1983.
Rees, Margaret A., editor, Luis Buñuel: A Symposium, Leeds 1983.
Eberwein, Robert T., Film and the Dream Screen: A Sleep and a Forgetting, Princeton, New Jersey, 1984.
Lefèvre, Raymond, Luis Buñuel, Paris, 1984.
Vidal, Agustin Sanchez, Luis Buñuel: Obra Cinematografica, Madrid, 1984.
Aub, Max, Conversaciones con Buñuel: Seguidas de 45 entrevistas con familiares, amigos y colaboradores del cineasta aragones, Madrid 1985.
Bertelli, Pino, Buñuel: L'arma dello scandalo: L'anarchia nel cinema di Luis Buñuel, Turin 1985.
Oms, Marcel, Don Luis Buñuel, Paris 1985.
De la Colina, Jose, and Tomás Pérez Turrent, Luis Buñuel: Prohibido asomarse al interior, Mexico 1986.
Sandro, Paul, Diversions of Pleasure: Luis Buñuel and the Crises of Desire, Columbus, Ohio, 1987.
Williams, Linda, Figures of Desire: A Theory and Analysis of Surrealist Film, Berkeley, 1992.
Evans, Peter W., The Films of Luis Buñuel: Subjectivity and Desire, New York and Oxford, 1995.
Baxter, John, Buñuel, New York, 1999.
Variety (New York), 19 April 1967.
Film Français (Paris), 9 June 1967.
Fieschi, Jean-André, "La Fin ouverte," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1967.
Narboni, Jean, in Cahiers du cinéma (Paris), July 1967.
Seguin, Luis, in Positif (Paris), September 1967.
Stein, Elliot, "Buñuel's Golden Bowl," in Sight and Sound (London), December 1967.
J.A.D. in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), December 1967.
Durgnat, Raymond, and Robin Wood, in Movie (London), no. 15, 1968.
D'Lugo, Marvin, "Glances of Desire in Belle de jour," in Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), Winter-Spring 1978.
Buñuel, Luis, "Dnevnaia Krasavitsa," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 6, 1992.
Jousse, T., "Buñuel face a ce qui se derobe," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1993.
Girard, Martin, "Belle de Jour," in Séquences (Quebec), no. 180, September-October 1995.
Morris, Gary, "Belle de Jour," in Bright Lights (San Francisco), no. 15, 1995.
"Belle de Jour," in Castoro Cinema (Firenze), no. 59, 1996.
* * *
In many ways Belle de jour is the perfect illustration of André Breton's famous dictum that "everything leads us to believe that there exists a certain point of the spirit at which life and death, the real and the imaginary . . . cease to be perceived as opposites. It is vain to see in the Surrealists' activity any motive other than the location of that point."
At first sight the film, based on a novel by Joseph Kessel, seems to be a relatively straightforward story about a young woman who indulges in masochistic day dreams and works, clandestinely, in a brothel. But, as the film progresses, the line between "fantasy" and "reality" becomes increasingly blurred. The young woman in question is Séverine, the beautiful but frigid wife of a young doctor Pierre. One of her regular fantasies involves Pierre punishing her by having her dragged from his carriage by his coachmen, who then bind, gag, whip, and rape her. Husson, one of their friends, mentions the name of a brothel run by Madame Anaïs, and Séverine, under the name Belle de Jour, goes to work there secretly every day. One of her clients, a young thug named Marcel, falls in love with her and tries to persuade her to leave the brothel. When she holds back he shoots her husband, and is himself killed by the police. Pierre is now paralysed and is looked after devotedly by Séverine. One day Husson tells him about his wife having worked in a brothel. The shock appears to kill him, then, all of a sudden, he rises from his chair, seemingly miraculously cured.
Thus at the very end of the film, just as the audience are congratulating themselves on having neatly sorted out "fantasy" from "reality" throughout the course of the narrative, Buñuel throws the whole distinction into sudden confusion by presenting what seems like a wish-fulfilment in the most straightforwardly naturalistic manner. The director's method here looks back to The Exterminating Angel (where extraordinary, absurd events are depicted as if they were the most normal things imaginable) and forward to The Milky Way, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Phantom of Liberty, and That Obscure Object of Desire, whose less conventional, more episodic narrative structures enable Buñuel to explore his surrealist vision to the full. Indeed, Buñel's remark that these last films all evoke "the essential mystery in all things" and "the search for truth, as well as the necessity of abandoning it as soon as you've found it" serves as a suitable warning to all those who would seek to produce any kind of definitive reading of Belle de jour. Indeed, the whole film exists in the image of the little box that an Oriental client brings with him to the brothel. When opened, this emits a strange, high-pitched buzzing sound and greatly disturbs all of the girls— except Séverine, who is fascinated by it. The camera never reveals what "it" is, and, according to his autobiography, Buñuel was constantly asked by people what was in the box: his answer was always "whatever you want there to be." It's worth noting, incidentally, that the original novel, which Buñuel describes as "very melodramatic, but well constructed," does observe the usual literary distinctions between "outer" and "inner" events, and that the English subtitled version of the film (un)helpfully italicises the dialogue in the scenes which someone has decreed are to be read as dreams or fantasies!
Belle de jour was Buñuel's most sustained treatment of another favourite theme—that of fetishism. This had already raised its head in El and The Diary of a Chambermaid, but Séverine's clients represent a veritable cornucopia of fetishism, including a gynaecologist who plays at being a valet, and a Count who enjoys masturbating under a coffin in which Séverine (whom he calls his daughter) is lying. Apparently Buñuel wanted this scene to take place after a celebration of Mass, but censorship problems intervened—not for the first time in Buñuel's anarchic oeuvre.