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Film / Belle de Jour

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"It is possibly the best-known erotic film of modern times, perhaps the best. That's because it understands eroticism from the inside-out—understands how it exists not in sweat and skin, but in the imagination."

Belle de Jour is one of the most famous films directed by Luis Buñuel. It was based on Joseph Kessel's eponymous erotic novel. Released in 1967, it starred then-débutante Catherine Deneuve.

Séverine (Deneuve) looks outwardly like the perfect Housewife. Beautiful, demure, well-mannered and impeccably groomed, she is the very image of bourgeois propriety. In fact she is a masochist who likes to fantasize about being humiliated and treated like a sex object. On the recommendation of a friend, she acts out on these fantasies by becoming a part-time sex worker in an upscale brothel. Since she only turns tricks during her husband's business hours, she is given the moniker Belle de Jour, "beauty of the day".

Available from the The Criterion Collection (No. 593).

This film provides examples of:

  • All Just a Dream: It's unclear what really happens and what just takes place in Séverine's overactive fantasy life.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Séverine is turned on by sex with her clients but has no interests in her affectionate husband.
  • All Women Are Lustful: Séverine at least clearly wants some rough sex.
  • Band of Brothels: Séverine's "colleagues".
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Séverine (blonde) and her fellow sex workers Charlotte (brunette) and Mathilde (redhead).
  • Book Ends: Starts with a carriage, ends with a carriage. Pierre asks Severine what she's dreaming about, and she responds, "you."
  • Covert Pervert: Séverine, the well-dressed, respectable housewife, who longs to be abused and humiliated, and goes to work as a sex worker.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Bunuel deliberately used Deneuve's appearance as a blond ice queen to emphasize the contrast between her straight-laced persona and her real inner self.
  • Erotic Film: Based on the erotic novel by Joseph Kessel.
  • Fetish: Séverine's is to be tied up and sexually abused by strangers.
  • Foreshadowing: Pierre reflecting upon a wheelchair. At the end of the movie, he's paraplegic.
  • Gainax Ending: Not even Luis Bunuel himself was entirely sure what it meant. The sound of the carriage bells, which in other scenes are associated with her sexual fantasies, implies that she is imagining the last scene.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Séverine becomes a sex worker in a discriminating, boutique brothel.
  • I Love the Dead / Incest Subtext: The freakiest scene in the movie involves Séverine randomly meeting a stranger—not in her brothel, but when she's out and about—who invites her back to the mansion. The stranger has her dress up in a see-through robe, and then has her lie in a coffin. The stranger then calls her his daughter, before masturbating next to the coffin that contains a surprised Séverine.
  • Imagine Spot: Some scenes are clearly Séverine's erotic fantasies, like the two scenes where her husband ties her up and sexually humiliates her, and the scene where she and Henri crawl under a table together while Pierre and Henri's wife idly chat. How much of the rest of the film is reality, and how much is Séverine's fantasies, is unclear.
  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue: At least two scenes, the two scenes where Pierre is humiliating Séverine, are revealed to be her fantasies.
  • The Mafia: Marcel and another client are part of it.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Marcel attempts this on Séverine's husband. Doesn't work, and he gets killed in the process.
  • Naughty by Night: Inverted. Séverine is naughty by day (hence the title), because that's when her husband is at work.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Séverine's first job.
  • Riddle for the Ages: One customer shows up with a small lacquered box, the contents of which cause Mathilde to recoil in shock. We'll never know what's in it.
  • Secret Sex Worker: Séverine is a picture perfect Housewife who is a secret masochist, craving to be sexually dominated. On the recommendation of a friend, she begins to prostitute herself during the daytime, while her husband works and is none the wiser.
  • Sexless Marriage: Pierre is handsome, and clearly in love with Séverine, and wants to be intimate with her. She isn't interested.
  • Single-Issue Psychology: One brief scene implies that Séverine was sexually abused as a child, but this is never followed up.
  • Sleeping Single: Pierre and Severine don't share a bed.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Séverine fantasizes about being tied up and flogged on the back by two low class sorts in livery.