March 29, 2006
Belle de jour (1967)
Grade: 67/100

Director: Luis Bu~uel
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Genevieve Page

What it's about. Beautiful Catherine Deneuve is married to Pierre (Jean Sorel), a young, handsome, devoted, wealthy, and perfect man who pampers her in style. But Deneuve has an inner need to be sexually punished as a bad girl, so she begins a double life as a prostitute by day, and an attentive (although frigid) wife at night. Can she keep her occupation a secret from her husband?

How others will see it. Fantasy and fiction blend in Belle de jour to such a degree that it is impossible to tell exactly what scenes belong to the main story, and which scenes are strictly Deneauve's imagination. Of course, the implication is that essentially the entire movie is an extended fantasy, and Deneuve never really cheated on her husband at all, except in her mind.

One shouldn't spend too much time worrying about the division between fantasy and story in this curious French language film. Instead, enjoy the lovely women, the dangerous situations, and the very absurdity of it all.

There will be those who dislike this movie. These include folks uninterested in any subtitled film, moralists who object to its theme of love with random strangers to assuage borderline mental illness, and those who dislike the film's indifferent separation between the real and unreal.

How I felt about it. We need a motive. Why would Deneuve become a prostitute, when she is already the girl who has everything? Even her maid is as nice as can be, no doubt to Deneuve's well-disguised frustration.

The answer is that she is not and never was a pro, but imagined she was because she was bored with her unearned luxury and tranquility. Or, perhaps her boredom and inner need for debasement actually did bring her to work for Madame Anais (Genevieve Page), who is also nice for a woman of the world. But that would detract from the ambiance of four lovely women who never have more than one customer at a time.

Was Deneuve bored? Does that explain her decision to become a prostitute? Or is she looking for the dark side, in men, in life, or in herself? If she is a sinner, she must be punished, which is ultimately delivered by her cuckold husband once he is wise. Naturally, this punishment is to be delayed as long as possible, since the fear of punishment is part of the payoff she secretly seeks.

Well, who knows, and although Deneuve's exact motivations reveal a mystery, the fact is that she is paid for immersing herself in her fantasies, when everyone else has to pay up to have her, and even then only until 5 o'clock.

Since Pierre has no personality other than being clueless and patient, the most interesting male character is the possessive, intense, Marcel (Pierre Clementi). Marcel is full of anger, and demands Deneuve all to herself.

Naturally, this is a major turn on for Deneuve, who has suffered through numerous unpleasant appointments to get to the exciting bad boy of her dreams. But even he can't fully shake her loyalty to Pierre, who unknowingly provides the foundation for her secret life.