As part of the Boston Calling Music Festival in 2018, Natalie Portman curated a special festival of films at the Brattle Theatre. Her program, “The Female Gaze,” ran from May 22-24, 2018 and featured films with similar themes told from the perspective of either a male or female director. The following are her notes on the program in general and the specific films that she chose.
Tag: Belle De Jour
In adapting Joseph Kessel’s 1928 novel of the same name, Luis Buñuel’s 1968 classic, Belle de Jour, turned a deeply sexist tale of prostitution in the Parisian upper crust into a nuanced portrait of a woman at odds with her surroundings and herself. The story of Séverine – the quiet, young wife of a handsome doctor who fights her ennui and tests the edges of her sexuality by working part-time at a brothel – is a risky one; one that could benefit from sensitive characterization and detailed imagery or die at the hands of softcore exploitation.
Though Kessel considers it the “most human” of his novels, he fails to deliver the lived-in introspection required for this sort of material. His Séverine is a caricature straight out of Freud’s margin notes, unable to process complex thoughts clearly and whose sexuality exists solely because of a childhood molestation brusquely referenced at the start of the book. Her every action is painfully simple-minded – her constant near-fainting at the mere thought of prostitution, her inadequacy during her early days at the brothel and the catastrophe she causes after starting an affair with a dangerous client – and she is almost always punished for them. One can see Kessel wrote from a place that might’ve seemed to him genuinely human, but his obvious lack of understanding in regards to female sexuality cuts his apparent wisdom down into misguided misogyny.
There has never been a thorough way of stamping down individuality and strength. Even during society’s most oppressive states, humans have found ways of expressing themselves through one way or another, even if not always in the most obvious form. Sometimes, though, these assertions of self are so incredibly in plain view that they become easy to entirely overlook, as is the case with the role fashion has played in solidifying female identity in film. Long dismissed as mere cosmetics and playing dress-up, women’s cinematic fashions have nevertheless inspired far-reaching cultural trends by reflecting or encouraging resilience.