Review for Belle De Jour - The 50th Anniversary Edition
It doesn’t seem that long ago that I made my way through the excellent Luis Buñuel DVD box set which contained seven of his finest films (though it excluded my favourite ‘Exterminating Angel’). This beautifully re-mastered edition of ‘Belle de Jour’, released in celebration of its 50th year, whilst available on its own, will shortly be released along with five other films on Blu-Ray, some for the first time, many re-mastered by StudioCanal who, for my money, do some of the finest transfers in the business. But more on that later.
Perhaps Buñuel’s most popular film, and certainly one of his most notorious, ‘Belle de Jour’ is a psycho-sexual melodrama, first released to great acclaim in 1967, and starring the coldly beautiful Catherine Deneuve, along with a Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Geneviève Page, and Pierre Clémenti. It has been released on Blu-Ray previously (in 2009) though I haven’t seen that, so can’t comment on whether this represents an upgrade to that or not. However, this is a from a brand new 4K restoration so I assuming it is.
‘Belle de Jour’ is, in many regards, a strange film in that, rather than merely reflect the narrative of the book on which it is based, turns itself into a deeply psychological exploration of repressed sexuality – a subject that seemed to fascinate Freudian fan Bunuel for much of his life.
It’s the story of the Séverine (coincidentally the name of the subject of a Velvet Underground song, the S&M homage ‘Venus in Furs’, released the same year, though presumably unrelated) played by Catherine Deneuve, the utterly beautiful, but repressed wife of a wealthy surgeon. Whilst the two appear to be very much in love, Séverine is seemingly frigid, unable to express her love through anything but fantasised sexuality where she is the subject of brutal attacks over which she has no control. There are flashbacks to a childhood where, the suggestion appears to be, that this condition is the result of unconscious recollections of childhood abuse – though this is never majored on.
She becomes fascinated by other individual’s sexual lives and, when she learns from a friend, of the presence of brothels in Paris, she is inexplicably drawn to one, offering her services as a high class prostitute; a hidden life of which her husband is blissfully unaware.
She is given the name Belle de Jour by her Madame (Geneviève Page),, who soon seems to have the measure of her, and before long she is indulging in real-life versions of her sometimes harrowing fantasies – which see her bound and abused. In typical Bunuelian style, these soon transcend the merely kinky (being tied to a tree and raped by her horsemen for example) into sheer surrealism (tied to a post and having manure thrown at her).
A slightly soap-ish melodrama unfolds too where she learns that her husband’s friends are not all they might seem, with Husson (Michel Piccoli) proving to possess a cruel interest in her which he pursues with vigour.
The film reaches an unpleasant narrative climax when Séverine meets Marcel (Pierre Clémenti) at the brothel – an enigmatic gangster with both a cruel streak but warm eyes that seem to see directly into Séverine’s soul. He becomes obsessed with her and manage to locate her home, breaking the comfortable barrier between her two carefully partitioned lives. Things do not end well in an ending that is thought-provoking in the extreme.
It’s an incredibly compelling film which pays repeated viewing. The performances, even in the rather stilted English dub (if you should choose that) are excellent. It’s a film that, whilst full of eroticism, is of itself rarely erotic, which is not untypical of Bunuel who seemed fascinated more by the natural drive (and absurdity) of sex than in celebrating the act itself. Indeed, most of the sex here looks either comedic, painful, uncomfortable or a combination of all three.
The transfer of the film is top notch – it looks great and is a brand new 4K transfer.
The disc has some really excellent contextual extras, most of which have been ported over from previous releases. However there is a brand new interview with Bunuel collaborator and screenwriter, who was involved with several of Bunuel’s latter films, Jean-Claude Carriere who is on great form. Also new is ‘Masterclass’ with Bunuel’s son, Diego Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere as they take questions from an avid audience.
Ported over from previous releases is the fascinating ‘Last Script’ featurette, which shows Diego Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere in conversation at a series of locations that were of significance to Bunuel and his career. ‘A Story of Perversion or Emancipation?’ is an interesting take on the film from a Sexual psychiatrist, Dr Sylvain Mimoun, whose analysis is really well-observed and illuminating. Also included to wrap up the extra features is an excellent audio Commentary by Professor Peter W. Evans, an academic from Queen Mary University of London. You also get six exclusive art cards though the review disc didn’t include these.
‘Belle de Jour’ is a film that every fan of serious cinema should see at least once and this edition is undoubtedly the best way to do that. If you can bear to wait another couple of weeks, it may be worth holding out for the Bunuel Blu-Ray box set which included this edition.