Friday, September 09, 2005

Belle de Jour

Belle de Jour (1967) by Luis Bruñuel

This is the first movie review I’ve written in a long time. This is also the beginning of my public blogging. For what it’s worth.

Let me start off with the absurdly self-evident fact that Catherine Deneuve is hot, Hot, HOT. A keen grasp of the obvious, I have.

In short, Séverine is a young wife, married to a doctor, living a life of some privilege in Paris. Séverine and Pierre have been married a year when we join their story already in progress, but they still sleep in separate beds. I’ll allow for a certain prudery in the movie based on the year it was made, but I can’t believe that the French ever slept in separate beds like the American prudes would have had us believe all couples did.

I find it shocking that a quick search of “movies husband wife separate beds” in my most-used search engine came back with, um, thousands of links referring to how this is an appropriate arrangement. Well, the search returned a bio of Dick Van Dyke, too, so maybe I should count my blessings that not all culture is dead.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that something isn’t right between the two of them. Séverine’s point of view in the movie starts out with a disturbing fantasy during which her husband turns her over to two coachmen for the purposes of torture and humiliation. When she awakes, we begin to see how deeply conflicted she is and what a milquetoast her husband is.

I’m sorry. I’m not going to say that Pierre deserves the treatment he gets from Séverine, but the guy is completely clueless!

Séverine likes it rough. Her fantasies become more deeply entrenched in images of degradation either by, or with the tacit agreement of, her husband. Back in the waking world, though, Pierre can’t get it through his head that something bad, really bad, had happened to Sév in her childhood. Her inability to be intimate with him is related to an emotional trauma she can express only in her fantasies.

All the blurbs of the movie describe her as a “bored housewife” which I think does her an injustice. She’s not bored, she’s f*’ed up. The usual blurbs go on to say that she becomes a prostitute and pretty much leave the plot outline at that.

The thing is that she didn’t take the “day job” because she was bored. She’s looking for a place that has the kind of objectification of a person that she’s used to from her childhood. Because poor Pierre can’t see the real her, she retreats back into a pattern of treatment by others that is familiar to her.

Her story and development have two turning points that I might characterize as the entrance- and exit-points of a big turn.

She meets and falls in lust with a young criminal who excites her. I think the allure of Marcel to her is more than the Bad Boy syndrome. Marcel is able to both see her as a person, and subject her to humiliation and objectification, all at the same time.

After that, her fantasy is that of playing the part of a corpse.

Then, as she’s careening out of control through this bend, Pierre’s friend Henri visits her work. Shock and dismay. Henri promises to keep her secret from Pierre, but then also threaten to recommend her to many of his friends. Séverine is trapped.

She dreams then of a duel in which she herself is killed.

Foreshadowing, of course, as the story starts to wrap up its loose ends. Séverine quits the brothel, Marcel runs amok, and Pierre is paralyzed. Henri eventually comes to spill the beans to Pierre and after that Séverine imagines Pierre as a loving and devoted husband, all while she gazes on him in his wheelchair.

The moral of the story? I’ll be damned if I know. According to the movie’s trivia, even the director doesn’t know what the ending means.

I suppose I’d have to say that on one level it’s about emotional suffering and how the scars lead people into radically self-destructive behavior. It has some elements of Greek and Elizabethan tragedy in it also in that all the good-guys are dead and all the bad-guys are wondering what the hell happened.

I have to admit that my DVR neglected to record the last 2 minutes of the movie. The last thing I see is Pierre getting up and walking around. Sue me.

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