Recently re-released and restored in glorious 4K in commemoration of its 50th anniversary, Luis Buñuel’s bizarre erotic thriller Belle du Jour still remains a fascinating work by a master of cinematic surrealism.
Catherine Deneuve delivers a compelling performance as Séverine, a newly married housewife whose sadomasochistic dreams develop into afternoon sojourns into the world of prostitution. As she becomes increasingly enveloped in her new occupation, she attempts to conceal this hidden world of vice from her husband and friends. Suffice to say, that doesn’t really go as planned.
Firstly, Belle du Jour looks beautiful in this new presentation – the film has never looked as gorgeous. Despite being one of Buñuel’s most coherent works, alongside The Exterminating Angel, the oddness doesn’t relent – the sound design is punctuating and hypnotic, the lines of reality and fantasy are muddied through flashback sequences, and there are several uncomfortable and mysterious encounters with Séverine’s ‘clients’ – a huge man wanting to incorporate a box of unseen, perhaps living contents into a sex act being the stand out ‘what’s that all about’ moment.
Memory, fantasy and desire, as well as past, present and future intersect as the story progresses as we see Séverine transform from reserved socialite to prostitute, as her hidden life blooms into its own monster. Its imagery is striking and performances solid.
Deneuve’s portrayal of the title character is rightfully regarded as one of her best.
Whilst some of the dialogue hasn’t aged very well, the strange and compelling imagery of the film has an indelible tension, humour, beauty, even a certain horror about it, leaving Belle du Jour standing up as perhaps the great directors finest work – an ambiguous slice of 60’s erotica brought back to life after 50 years.