Monday, March 26, 2018

Belle de Jour

Louis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour (1967) which is currently being revived at Film Forum (on the tails of a Michel Piccoli retrospective) is curiously lacking in mystery, over 50 years after its release. Catherine Deneuve’s enigmatic allure (she’s really the Mona Lisa of French Cinema and is beautiful without being sexual) overshadows the narrative and at times takes on a life of its own. In fact, one of the qualities of the film itself that one notices from the first frames is the pure beauty of the cinematography. Even the jarring scenes of sado-masochistic sexual fantasy are set in plushly drawn buccolic settings that look like Barbizon school naturalist landscapes. And Bunuel’s mise-en-scene gives the film a stately quality that’s as aloof as his star. Repression is the subject and to a certain extent Deneuve as Severine, the housewife turned prostitute, is reprising her role in Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) where the emotional deadness is belied by the onslaught of murderous imagery. Ultimately the film exudes little of the multivalent complexity of classics like Exterminating Angel (1962)  and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) where Bunuel sublimely refines the choreography of the surrealist esthetic. Piccoli plays Henri Husson, a predatory aristocrat and Belle de Jour is a great vehicle for his name brand coolness and insouciance. However, the film is curiously one-dimensional and predictable, even as the line is crossed between fantasy (Severine is constantly reliving the same scenarios) and reality.

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