Monday, January 26, 2015

Belle de jour

TCM is spending this morning and afternoon in Paris; tonight is spent with the films of Spanish-born director Luís Buñuel. The two subjects merge in the night's first movie, Belle de jour, at 8:00 P0.

The movie starts off oddly. Séverine (Catherine Deneuve) is taking a romantic carriage ride through the woods someplace presumably just outside Paris with her husband Pierre (Jean Sorel). All of a sudden, Pierre orders the driver to stop the carriage. At this point, Pierre orders Séverine out of the carriage, and has her whipped by a couple of coachmen! That's bizarre. Of course, it turns out that it's just a dream. Séverine loves her husband, but it her life is a bit boring. He's a doctor, so he works long hours and there's not much time for romance. And when there is, it's not the most exciting, as Séverine apparently wants something a little kinky.

Séverine spends her days doing what a lot of women do: shopping and gossiping with other women. Sorry, women, but it's been a cultural trope for ages, and Buñuel is just following that trope. Of course, he needs to have Séverine be part of the idle upper middle class to drive the plot, too. One day, while taking a taxi home with a friend, Séverine learns that a third friend has been doing some sex work to spice up her life. This, unsurprisingly, gives Séverine idea.

So Séverine goes off to see a Madame Anaïs. Anaïs runs a brothel in an otherwise non-descript apartment building somewhere in Paris; I don't know enough about the city to say whether it's a particularly good or bad area. Eventually, Séverine agrees to work a couple of afternoons a week, but only under specific conditions. She has to get home before Pierre, of course, so that he doesn't suspect what she's doing. And Séverine, never having done this sort of work before, is understandably a bit reluctant at first. But Anaïs gives her the name "Belle de jour", and Séverine turns out to be good at what she does, eventually.

There are going to be some problems, of course. One comes in the form of the young Marcel. He's a thug with flashy gold teeth, working under another thug with more experience. They come to Anaïs now and then for the sex, and Marcel decides that he wants Belle all to himself. Belle doesn't want that, but Anaïs can be discreet about that sort of thing. A bigger problem in the form of another client, a middle-aged man whom Séverine immediately recognizes as Pierre's friend Henri. Needless to say, Henrie recognizes that Belle is actually Séverine.

Belle de jour is an interesting movie, although the ending is one that I found maddening, with two sudden plot twists. The first wasn't so bad, but the second leaves you wondering what part of Séverine's life as displayed in the movie was real, and what was just the fantasy of a bored housewife. Did she even work for Anaïs? What happened to Pierre and Henri? I could accept a lot of different endings. Heck, Pierre informing Séverine that he's into kinky sex, too, and why didn't she tell him would have been an interesting, mind-blowing ending. But the ambiguity of what we get, in my opinion, takes the film down a notch. Oh, it's more than worth a watch. The rest of the movie is a good story, and if you like vintage set design, there's a lot to love here. Plus, Catherine Deneuve looks gorgeous as ever.

Belle de jour is available on DVD, but it's one of those more expensive imports.

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