Beautiful young housewife Séverine Serizy (Catherine Deneuve) cannot reconcile her masochistic fantasies with her everyday life alongside dutiful husband Pierre (Jean Sorel). When her lovestruck friend Henri (Michel Piccoli) mentions a secretive high-class brothel run by Madame Anais (Genevieve Page), Séverine begins to work there during the day under the name Belle de Jour. But when one of her clients (Pierre Clémenti) grows possessive, she must try to go back to her normal life.
Based on the 1928 novel Belle de jour by Joseph Kessel.
Director: Luis Buñuel
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Pierre Clémenti, Genevieve Page.
Languages: French, Spanish
Run Time: 100 min
Review by Barbara Shulgasser
"BELLE DE JOUR," Luis Bunuel's sly sex comi-tragedy, hasn't been seen by American audiences since the 1970s, when the rights reverted to the producers. Finally, this 1967 showcase of Catherine Deneuve at her most gorgeous is available again.
Deneuve plays Severine, a sexually repressed young wife who loves her handsome young husband, Pierre, but has no carnal interest in him. Intrigued by the rumor that another upper-middle-class matron in her circle is picking up extra money by working as a prostitute, Severine signs up with a refined madam, Mme. Anais, played by the aristocratic Genevieve Page.
Bunuel, working in French and ever the sniggering anarchist, gives us the touchingly unimaginative masochistic sex dreams of Severine. While her gentle husband is preparing for bed, she longs to be tied up and whipped by men in livery while a cruel Pierre looks on. When he asks what she is thinking about, she looks at him with a cool smile and says what all lovers say: "About you."
And when she is still toying with the notion of selling her body, she asks Pierre (Jean Sorel) if he's ever been with a whore. He admits he has and describes what it's like.
"You go in, you pick a woman, you spend a half hour with her, and you're depressed all day." Bunuel wrote the script with his longtime collaborator, Jean-Claude Carriere, from the 1928 novel by French Academy member Joseph Kessel and it is a canny achievement.
Sex and religion were Bunuel's two sacred objects of fun, and he gives them the full treatment here. We watch Severine at the brothel handle a crude good-time guy, a vast Asian fellow, a gynecologist with a yen to be humiliated and, awkwardly, a friend of her husband's played by the wolfish Michel Piccoli. In between, Bunuel inserts flashbacks of young Severine refusing the wafer during first communion and a full menu of her amusingly blasphemous dreams.
With no nudity, no copulation and no blood, by today's standards "Belle de Jour" is charmingly tame. It is suggestive rather than graphic, imaginative rather than explicit, subtle rather than patent. They don't make movies this intelligent, funny, engaging and just plain good anymore.