From the very first scene, Belle de Jour announces the collision of imagination and reality. A carriage ride through the woods is plausible until a young woman, Séverine, is tied up, whipped, and on the verge of being used by the coachmen, egged on by her husband. A cut to her bedroom reveals that this has only been her daydream; her husband is actually an amiable surgeon who respectfully sleeps in a separate bed.
This confusion between Séverine’s real and imaginary lives is one of the film’s strategies: Rather than use cinematographic effects like a color or gauzy effect to separate Séverine’s internal world from the external one, director Luis Buñuel only provides thematic cues — carriages and the mention of cats — to signal that what we are seeing is not real, and the fantasies are that much more potent for being almost indistinguishable from the reality.
Few movie reviewing pleasures are as satisfying as being able to sing the praises of Catherine Deneuve. Even more stunning today than she was when she first burst onto international movie screens as a 60s vixen and sexpot, she is still working and continues to fascinate movie audiences around the world. It is impossible to believe she is almost 70 years old, so recently does her reign as France’s leading female star seem to have risen. No other French actress has taken her crown. Over the years, she has allowed some (Anna Karina, Genevieve Bujold, Juliette Binoche) to borrow it for a while, but even they knew it had to be given back, that it was only on loan. Deneuve, with her aloof translucence, her continental cool was and is an international force. Irresistibly beautiful on the outside, she also exudes within a searing intelligence and a dignity that places her on higher planes than those occupied by actresses who are merely pretty to look at. After decades of moviemaking, she remains France’s most delectable export. Like all the greatest movie stars, there is something eternal about Deneuve. Not only is she not of this world; she seems to exist beyond the world of cinema. When you die, you half-expect to find her in some corner of the Cosmos, holding court in rarefied air. Continue reading →