Luis Bunuel's erotic masterpiece Belle de Jour is one of the sexiest films ever made. It tells the story of a woman named Severine played by the beautiful legendary actress Catherine Deneuve who is a sexually repressed and deeply unsatisfied bourgeois Paris housewife, who finds erotic liberation through psychosexual fetishes and fantasies working at a part-time brothel. She is a woman who has it all: a perfect hansom upscale husband, a luxurious home and great wealthy aristocratic friends; and yet she finds herself not personally happy mentally nor physically. She never has the desire to want to make love to her husband and at the same time has sexual masochist dreams and fantasies of having herself being gagged, flogged, raped and pelted with mud by several different men, while at the same time being called such names as 'tramp', and 'slut.' "I felt they showed more of me than they'd said they were going to," Catherine Deneuve remarked to Pascal Bonitzar in 2004. "There were moments when I felt totally used. I was very unhappy." Despite how Luis Bunuel treated her during the filming of the movie, she can't deny that Belle de Jour turned out to be one of her most iconic and remembered roles. Luis Bunuel is one of the most brilliant and cynical directors of all time, a man who liked to point out the ironic absurdities of people and of human nature through his sardonic dry humor. He was a man full of sexual fetishes, surreal and mistaken identities, and absurdities of normal situations taken into a different context. Many of these themes play along with the main protagonist in Belle de Jour, in which she herself is a woman of many sexual fetishes and several different identities. What makes this film incredibly sexy and never crosses the line on becoming sleazy is that Bunuel understands eroticism inside and out, and even the male clients themselves seem less dirty then you would think, and more sad and lonely figures. There is no explicit sex in the movie and hardly any on-screen nudity, which is because most of the sexual fetishes that are shown are projected through the viewer's imagination, like for instance a client who has Severine in the bois de Boulogne performing a necrophilic rite, and most famously the arrival of a client with a small lacquered box. We never know what's inside the box, or what he plans to do with it, but we do here a soft buzzing noise inside. The rest is our imagination. What makes Belle de Jour even more fascinating and somewhat tragic are the psychological pathology for Severine's unusual liberating behavior. Her deep-rooted sexual fetish desires in rape and sadomasochism aren't really explored or answered in the film, except through small glimpses of her childhood, which show that she may have been a victim of sexual abuse when she was just a young child.
The first scene of the film shows a horse carriage strolling on the road. Severine and her husband Pierre are the couple strolling along romantically down an isolated road in the country. Pierre says to his wife, "I love you more every day. I'd like everything to be perfect too. If only you weren't so cold." Severine gets upset with her husband and she says, "what good is your tenderness to me?" The carriage stops suddenly and her husband orders Severine out. The carriage drivers forcefully pull her out with her fighting back as they gag and drag her into the woods. Pierre says, "go on. Don't worry about roughing up the little slut! Shut up you little bitch." The carriage drivers tie her up and her husband says if she screams he will kill her. Pierre rips off his wifes top and he has the carriage drivers whip her back while her husband lights a cigarette and watches. "That's enough. She's yours now." The men start kissing her as her husband walks away letting them have her way with her. She shouts out to her husband, "Pierre, please, don't let the cats out!"
Suddenly you realize it was Severine's fantasy as she is laying comfortably in bed. "What are you thinking about Severine?" asks her husband. She says "I was thinking about you...and us." Pierre and Severine both talk about celebrating there one year marriage anniversary and before they go to bed Severine says to her husband, "forgive me.. You're so good, so understanding, but I..." The married couple is out visiting a ski resort and the next day they meet two friends, Henri Husson and Renée. Severine does not like Husson's manner and the way he looks at her but her husband likes him and they sit down at their table. Henri tells them how he saw them walking arm and arm and they looked like newlyweds. "It was very reassuring like an everyday occurrence. But you...Pierre, you sometimes make me feel guilty and uneasy. You and I are so different. One really doesn't meet many men like you. I mean it sincerely." When two attractive women walk by Henri looks at them and Pierre asks if that is all he is interested in. Henri says, "Everything else is useless" as Pierre tells him he should see a specialist for his illness.
Riding with Renée later that day Renée asks Severine if she remembers a woman named Henriette. Renée tells her, "It seems she's turning tricks, in one of those houses. They say she's there several days a week. Of course that's all so far from your world. But can you imagine? A woman like you or me. Can you see her going with just anybody? In those places you don't get to choose. Old, or not, lousy-looking or not. Even with a man you love it can be unpleasant." The taxi driver assures the ladies that those places still exist and there is no lack of business.
When the taxi drops Severine off and Severine walks into her home her maid says flowers have been delivered by Henri and she of course purposely drops and shatters the vase. There is a quick flashback to Severine when she was a young girl as she is being sexually seduced by an older man and yet it's never shown if it's her father or not. That evening Severine and Pierre are together and Severine asks her husband, "Before you met me did you use to go to those...houses a lot?" Her husband is shocked by her curious question and says that he went to those not very often. Severine for some reason is curious on the going ons in there and her husband describes: You go in, pick a woman, spent a half an hour with her, leave and feel depressed for the rest of the day. Pierre can tell something is bothering his wife but she says she is just very tired and heads to bed.
That next day out at a gym playing tennis Severine runs into Harriette and they both politely say hi. After Harriette walks away Henri walks up to Severine and says, "the mysterious Henriette! The woman with two faces! A double life. How intriguing." Severine asks him why women do that and he says it's for the money. "It's the oldest profession in the world. It's mostly arranged by phone now, but the woman in those houses are a special breed. I used to go a lot. I enjoyed it. There's a very special atmosphere. The women are complete slaves." Henri tells her the building and apartment number the whore house is at and then starts to then hit on Severine and asks if he can see her...without her husband. She turns him down and quickly walks away.
As she is walking home she decides to walk by the infamous whore house she was told about but quickly walks away and heads to the park. After having some time to think about it she finally decides to go back and walk into the building. As she is climbing the stairs she has another flashback of her again as a young child in church and refusing the Blessed Sacrament. Severine decides to ring the bell and a woman named Madame Anais answers the door. Anais knowing Severine is nervous and looking for a job decides to let her in and introduces her to her maid Palla and then takes her into another room to discuss business more privately. Anais tells her she splits the money 50/50 and Severine says she can work but not after 5:00. She quickly leaves saying she will be back in a few hours and during that small time goes to visit her husband who seems to be a doctor at a hospital. She later arrives back to Madame Anais to work and Anais is actually shocked to find that she actually returned. Anais tells Severine how she's looking for classy well-bred woman and how she let one woman go because she was to vulgur.
Anais asks Severine her name and when Severine doesn't want to give her real name Anais tells her that she understands. "You think mine really is Anais?" she says. She tells Severine that they should find a name for her. "What if we called you Belle De Jour? Since you're only here afternoons, if you like. You look a bit nervous. Relax. You have someone waiting for you? A boyfriend? A husband? Oh, don't think I'm prying. Kiss me." Anais gives Severine a quick peck on the lips which shocks Severine. Anais leaves to check on the other women and while Severine is waiting she lets her hair down. Anais returns and wants to introduce the two other women whose names are Charlotte and Mathilde. They are currently with a rich client in the other room who is entertaining the both of them.
He's a rich fun lively man and when he finds out there is a new woman he yells out, "I love life! I love people to have fun!" and orders a bottle of champagne for the new girl named Belle De Jour. One of the women tells Belle De Jour that she likes her outfit but she needs something that comes off much quicker and easier. When the client notices Bella is nervous he unzips her top and tries to kiss her but she pulls away. "What's with her?" he asks. Anais has a talk with Severine alone and says to her, "do what he wants. that's all he asks." Severine wants to leave but Anais is losing patience with her and decides to throw her into the room with the mail client. The client strips Bella de Jour in her bra and underwear but she pulls away again and tries to run out but he stops her. "Who do you think you are, you little slut?" he asks her. "You get me excited and then pull me up short? You can put on airs for a while, but I've had enough!" He then throws her on the bed and she lays there lifeless as he has sex with her.
Later that evening she leaves and when arriving home she takes a shower and then burns her bra and underwear in the fireplace. When her husband arrives home she pretends she is in bed sleeping and when he checks to see if she's ok she tells him she is not feeling very good. When her husband leaves the room Severine has another sexual fantasy which involves her husband Pierre and his friend Henri out in the country. When they see Severine, her husband lets Henri defile her by throwing mud in her face while she is in bondage while both of the men are yelling, "How are you, little slut? Everything okay, you tramp? Old whore! Maggot! Sodomite! Scum!"
A week goes by and Severine arrives back at Anais's apartment but Anais is not very happy to see her. Severine asks for her job back and Madame Anais says, "So you can disappear again for a week without a word? I won't have amateurs here. That's what the streets are for. If you come back, you have to be serious about it." She decides to let her back in but lets her know this will be her last chance being taken back. When Severine walks into the other room she sees Charlotte and Mathilde again and they are happy that Belle De Jour has returned. When talking with the ladies they discuss to Severine on why they took this job with one of them working because her fiancée was hurt in a cycling accident and can't bring in any income. She says that she could make a living doing something else but not make nearly as much as she makes there.
There first client of the day arrives who is a professor of gynecologist. The professor asks for the new girl to come on in his room and so Anais brings in Belle de Jour. When Belle De Jour enters she starts to take off her clothes and when he sees that he demands she puts them back on at that instant. We then walks out of the room and wants her to invite him in. When walking in he is playacting as a butler dressed in a butler's outfit. Belle doesn't seem to be playing along with him correctly and he calls Anais and tells her to get Charlotte instead. "It's not brains surgery!" Anais tells Belle as she has her watch to see how it's done correctly through a hidden peep-hole in the other room. "Watch carefully what Charlotte does," Anais says. As Belle watches through the peep-hole she sees Charlotte purposely punish and humiliate him as he gets onto the floor while she steps on top of him. "Now walk on me. Spit on me. Stomp on my face.. Hit me hard!" being domineering over the professor as she stands on top of him calling him an old dirty pig. "How can anyone sinks so low." Belle says while watching. Belle then tells Anais, "You might be used to it, but it disgusts me."
Weeks pass and Belle now has worked there for some time One day a strange client arrives with a mysterious box that scares Charlotte and Mathilde and they offer him to Belle. Belle gladly invites him into a private room and he interestingly gives the box which has a sound of a bee buzzing inside but the audience is never shown what it exactly is. Even though we never see the strange fetish sex act that the client performs on Belle, Anais 's maid Pallas walks into the room and sees Belle sprawled on the bed looking drunk on orgasmic pleasure. Pallas of course thinks the opposite and tells her how that man scares her sometime, while we know he greatly satisfied Severine even though we are left out on what exactly happened. Later on that day Pallas's daughter comes in to show her mother her report card as Charlotte and Mathilde have a friendly chat with her.
At another time Belle De Jour is ordered to meet up with a necrophiliac aristocrat as he invites her over to his castle. When arriving there she is ordered to dress in a funeral like garment and is told to play the role of a dead lover in a coffin during a fake funeral. As she is playing dead the aristocrat comes in and starts moaning as he says, "I brought you some lilies. I love them so. How beautiful you are." He then mysteriously gets underneath the coffin and the coffin starts to shake which is never explained. When leaving the aristocrat's castle the man forcefully throws her out in the rain yelling, "get the hell out of here! Out!" and slams the door on her.
One evening her husband asks Severine into bed and when she climbs into bed with him he tells her how he would like if she just would just to it on her own freewill because it always feels like he is forcing her. She says, "you mustn't think that. I want to be alone with you more every day. You don't frighten me anymore. I feel like I understand you better, like I'm getting closer to you." Mr. Henri Husson comes to see her one day at Severine's home but she refuses to see him and yet she has a dream sequence of her and him having sex (with interestingly a broken wine bottle) under a restaurant table in the presence of her husband. One day at Madame Anais's a criminal named Hippolyte and his dangerous friend named Marcel arrive at Anais, (we see them just earlier attack and rob someone). When Pallas walks by Hippolyte asks her about her daughter rudely saying, "Big enough to be ticked yet?" Anais call Charlotte, Mathilde and Belle to attend to Hippolyte. When Hippolyte confronts Belle Marcel interrupts and says, "let me have her."
When alone in a private room together Marcel wants to know Belle De Jours real name but she wont tell him. She notices Marcel has medal teeth and he tells her his teeth were knocked out. The next day Severine and Pierre decide to take a small vacation out near the country but he can tell Severine is bored and that she's hiding something. Pierre then decides for them to head back to Paris because his wife doesn't seem to be enjoying herself with him.
When Marcel finally gets a phone call that Belle De Jour returned he quickly heads over to Madame Anais to see her and is furious that she left. Belle explains she had to leave Paris for a few days and that she can explain. Marcel angrily strips off his belt and says, "I'll explain a few things too and I'll leave my signature as well." He starts to whip Belle whip his belt and she angrily says, "Don't touch me! Do that once more and you'll never see me again." Marcel accepts but not before breaking a glass painting. He then calms down and sits on the bed saying to her how he has waited for her because he missed her. They lay together on the bed and he doesn't understand why she's with another guy if she seems to like being with him. When he asks if she loves the other guy and why she is here she says, "I don't know. They're two different things."
One evening Severine and Pierre go out on the town and Pierre tells Severine how happy she seems to be lately. When he brings up wanted a child with her though she quickly gets quite and pulls away. Suddenly he sees a wheelchair on the street and says, "this old thing caught my eye. I don't know why. It's strange."
One working day at Madame Anais Henri Hussan makes a surprising visit. When Anais calls Charlotte, Mathilde and Belle in to see him Severine is shocked to realize it's Henri. "Belle de jour? That's original." says Henri when learning Severine's supposed name. He then asks if he can be alone with Belle de Jour. Severine doesn't want to stay but Anais forces her to. When alone together Severine begs Henri not to tell Pierre about this and then says that he can do what he wants if he likes. Henri declines her offer and tells her, "I guess what attracted me about you was your virtue. You were the wife of a boy scout. That's all changed now. I have principles, unlike you. I won't tell Pierre, of course. But I have friends I could tell. I could send you some business." He then leaves some cash and tells her it's not for her but for Pierre and to get him some chocolates for him. There is a weird fantasy scene of Henri and Pierre having a duel out in the country. While the duel is happening Severine is tied to a tree with blood dripping off her face while her husband who is the victor walks over and kisses her.
After Henri leaves Madame Anais Severine pulls Anais aside and tells her she's quitting. Anais believes it's because of Marcel because of how dangerous and obsessed he's getting with Belle and how he comes every day always asking for her. When Anais asks if there is some address that she has if she ever needed to contact her at Severine rudely says no. Severine then tries to kiss Anais goodbye like Anais did to her on their first meeting but Anais coldly turns her head. When leaving Madame Anai's' Hippolyte starts to follow Severine as she heeds home. When arriving home alone her maid tells Severine there's a gentlemen there to see her.
Marcel walks into the room and says to Severine, "I like your little joint. Since you weren't at Anais's anymore, I thought I'd pay you a visit, see how you are doing." He sees a picture frame of her husband Pierre and says, "Is this your husband? Good looking guy. A nice fellow. A lot better than me." Severine says he is crazy and for him to leave soon before her husband arrives home. She asks what he wants from her and Marcel says to see her again. She says never so he says he will wait there and tell her husband everything when he arrives. She begs for him to leave by kissing him and he finally agrees to leave by saying, "here's the obstacle" as he holds up her husband's portrait and says to her that he will be seeing her soon. When leaving Severine's home he gets in Hippolyte's car and pulls a gun on him and demands he leave his car with him. Some time later Severine hears multiple gunshots from outside her apartment and when looking out from her balcony she finds her husband Pierre laying in the street. Eventually the police catch up with Marcel and they shoot him down in the street.
At the end of the film, after the shooting of Severine's husband Pierre the police identify the shooter as a common crook and believe Pierre being shot was probably a mistake because there is no connection between the two. Pierre is in a coma and months pass and her husband Pierre is now blind, speechless and bound in a wheelchair. While in their apartment Severine is taking care of her husband and Henri walks in and would like to speak to her husband. When asked by Severine alone why he wants to see Pierre he says he wants to tell him about her. Henri says, "he's paralyzed now, completely dependent on you. He's ashamed of being a burden on such a virtuous wife., so I've decided to tell him everything. He'll be hurt, but I think I'll be doing him a favor." Severine has no other choice and lets him see her husband and when Henri asks if she wants to be present for their conversation she ignores him and doesn't come into the room.
Some time later after Henri leaves Severine walks in and looks at her husband who is silent but with tears running down his face. When Severine sits down she has one last fantasy in which Pierre slowly smiles and speaks to her saying, "what are you thinking about Severine?" She says, "I was thinking about you." Pierre gets out of his wheel chair and walks over to the kitchen to make a drink. He then tells his wife he can get two weeks off in February and they can go to the mountains as they then both hear the sound of bells from outside from a mysterious horse carriage.
“I felt they showed more of me than they’d said they were going to,” Catherine Deneuve remarked to Pascal Bonitzer in 2004, about the making of Luis Buñuel’s 1967 Belle de jour. “There were moments when I felt totally used. I was very unhappy.” The story of Séverine, a deeply disenchanted haut bourgeois Paris housewife who finds erotic liberation through byzantine psychosexual fantasies and part-time work at an upscale brothel, Belle de jour certainly made extreme demands of Deneuve: her character is flogged, raped, and pelted with muck, among other assaults. But despite her objections to the way she was treated and her difficulties with Buñuel, Deneuve’s performance in Belle de jour turned out to be one of her most iconic.
Deneuve, who had become a star only three years earlier, as the melancholy jeune fille in Jacques Demy’s 1964 all-sung musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, was just twenty-three when Belle de jour came out; notably, Buñuel’s film was released in France less than three months after Demy’s radiant, MGM-inspired musical The Young Girls of Rochefort, starring Deneuve and her real-life sister Françoise Dorléac. But Belle de jour, more than any other film from the first decade of her career, defined what would become one of the actress’s most notorious personae: the exquisite blank slate lost in her own masochistic fantasies and onto whom all sorts of perversions could be projected. (Deneuve as deviant tabula rasa was first seen in Roman Polanski’s 1965 Repulsion, in which she plays a damaged beauty plummeting into psychosis; but Belle de jour doesn’t portray its heroine as mad, instead remaining deliberately ambiguous about the origins of her unconventional desires—and presaging the bizarre libertines she would later play in such films as Marco Ferreri’s Liza, 1972, and Tony Scott’s The Hunger, 1983.)
Buñuel was at a very different stage of his career from his young star, but Belle de jour represented a peak for him as well, the greatest—and most successful—film of his extremely rich late period. These works, bookended by 1964’s Diary of a Chambermaid and 1977’s That Obscure Object of Desire (his final film), were made mostly in France—where Buñuel had begun his filmmaking career with the incendiary, surrealist Un chien andalou (1929)—following the exiled Spanish director’s two decades in Mexico. Many of these late projects were cowritten with Jean-Claude Carrière and focus intensely on sexual perversion (a theme that recurs throughout Buñuel’s work). Belle de jour certainly falls into that category, and also, typically, skewers the entitled classes. Yet it stands out as the director’s most intricate character study—but of a protagonist who resists definition; the heroine, frequently trussed up and mussed up, retains an odd, opaque dignity in her debauchery.
In that same interview with Bonitzer, Deneuve was judicious enough to distinguish her experience of making Belle de jour from the final product, calling it a “wonderful film.” But her first meetings with Buñuel hinted at the duress that was to follow. According to John Baxter’s 1994 biography, Buñuel, it took time for the director to “warm to” his star: “He felt, with some justice, that she had been foisted on him, first by the Hakims [Belle de jour’s producers], then by her lover of the time, François Truffaut.” After dining with Buñuel at his house, the book recounts, Deneuve “left with little more than an impression that he disliked actors in general and was reserving his decision about her. The only advice he offered was the advice he had always given actors: ‘Don’t do anything. And above all, don’t . . . perform.’”
Though Deneuve deferred to her director, she was no puppet; Belle de jour is as much hers as Buñuel’s. The filmmaker, famously resistant to “psychological” interpretations of his work, stuffs Belle de jour with his trademarks, confounding any attempt to parse meaning: the surrealist blurring of fantasy and reality, fetishism, sexual perversion, blasphemy. But as Séverine, Deneuve, despite operating in the nebulous realm between dream and waking, imbues the film with irresistible and very real lust—and luster. Sporting the chicest Yves Saint Laurent finery, Deneuve revels in the peculiar desires of her character while always inviting our own. As Buñuel himself acknowledges in his 1984 autobiography, My Last Sigh (published a year after his death), Belle de jour “was my biggest commercial success, which I attribute more to the marvelous whores than to my direction.” (Per Baxter, after the filming of Belle de jour, he would finally admit of his star, “She’s really a very good actress.”) Deneuve’s gift was to update the world’s oldest profession for her still-expanding résumé.
The director had some modifying to do as well. Buñuel, who adapted Joseph Kessel’s 1928 novel with Carrière, assessed the source material dryly in My Last Sigh: “The novel is very melodramatic, but well constructed, and it offered me the chance to translate Séverine’s fantasies into pictorial images as well as to draw a serious portrait of a young female bourgeois masochist. I was also able to indulge myself in the faithful description of some interesting sexual perversions.”
He wastes no time in establishing those bizarre erotic proclivities. In Belle de jour’s opening scene, Séverine and her doting husband of one year, Pierre Serizy (Jean Sorel), a handsome, dutiful surgeon, are snuggled close in a horse-drawn carriage; he interrupts the tender moment with the lament “If only you weren’t so cold.” She pulls away, defensive. The sound of horse bells, which has been increasing in volume from the film’s first shot—and will indicate Séverine’s dreams or fantasies throughout—stops. Pierre orders his wife out of the cab; when she refuses, he and the two drivers remove her by force. She is gagged, bound to a tree, and whipped by the coachmen, who are then instructed by Pierre to rape her. When one begins to ravish her, Séverine appears to be in ecstasy.
This carnal reverie is soon interrupted by the Serizys at home, preparing for their usual chaste bedtime ritual. Pierre, in white pajamas, asks his pale-pink-nightie-clad wife, under the covers in a separate bed, what she’s thinking about: “I was thinking about you . . . and us. We were out for a ride in a carriage”—a scenario Pierre has heard before.
The fantasy clearly belongs to Séverine alone; she finds erotic thrills in her secret thoughts of debasement and humiliation, her florid imagination compensating for her sterile, sexless existence. Her most private desires will soon be realized at 11, cité Jean de Saumur, the address of the boutique bordello run by Madame Anaïs (Geneviève Page), given to Séverine by Pierre’s louche friend Husson (Michel Piccoli).
At Madame Anaïs’s, Séverine—now going by the nom de pute Belle de jour, a reference to her two-to-five shift (she insists on being home when Pierre returns from his workday at the hospital)—is horrified at first but proves to be a quick study. A burly Asian client scares off her two seasoned colleagues with his mysterious, buzzing lacquered box, but she is absolutely transfixed; after the john leaves, she, lying prone on the bed, lifts her head, her luxuriant mane of blonde hair disheveled, to reveal a woman still drunk on orgasmic pleasure.
The contents of the box are one of the film’s many mysteries (when asked what is inside, Buñuel would reply, “Whatever you want there to be”). Yet the greatest enigma is Séverine herself: why does she recoil from the slightest sexual advance from her husband yet lose herself, both in fantasy and in her new line of work, in elaborate masochistic tableaux? “Pierre, it’s your fault too. I can explain everything,” Séverine insists to her husband in the opening fantasy sequence, as she’s being forcibly removed from the landau. But of course, she can’t—and won’t. As in Repulsion, there are flashbacks to possible childhood trauma in Belle de jour. In one, a man appears to touch a young Séverine inappropriately; in another, she stubbornly refuses the Blessed Sacrament. But unlike in Repulsion, whose final, prolonged shot of a menacing family photo is offered as the root of Carole’s pathology, these scenes in Buñuel’s film are almost non sequiturs, presented not as psychological explanation but as blips in a baroque sexual surrealism.
As Séverine’s reveries and job demands become stranger and more mysterious—in one daydream, she is pelted with thick black mud by Pierre and Husson, who call her “tramp” and “slut”; a ducal client solicits her in the bois de Boulogne to perform in a necrophilic rite—Deneuve retains her porcelain, celestial inscrutability, while simultaneously transforming into an earthbound debauchee, delighting in her own defilement. Madame Anaïs (whose early, shameless flirtation with Séverine—who eventually reciprocates—is the first of the many moments in Deneuve’s filmography that would cement her status as a lesbian icon) touts her new employee’s regal bearing to prospective customers: “[She’s] a little shy, perhaps, but a real aristocrat.” Séverine’s coworkers, Charlotte (Françoise Fabian) and Mathilde (Maria Latour), are constantly remarking on the impeccable cut and style of her ensembles. Yet what this seemingly untouchable goddess craves most is the brutality of her latest john, the thug Marcel (Pierre Clémenti), a rough with metal teeth, a walking stick that doubles as a shiv, and fetishwear (shiny boots of leather with matching overcoat) that could have been dreamed up in an atelier overseen by Kenneth Anger and Pierre Cardin.
Séverine’s relationship with Marcel will lead to Pierre’s ruin—or does it? The ambiguous ending of Belle de jour suggests that everything that preceded it may have existed only in the heroine’s cracked dreamscape. Like the buzzing box, the film’s final scene is whatever you want it to be. Yet one thing is certain: Deneuve transcends kink. And despite her misery during the Belle de jour shoot, she would return for even more bizarre treatment three years later in Buñuel’s Tristana, losing both her virtue and a leg.
Severine is a woman who has sexual needs and either doesn't know how to ask for them or is ashamed for wanting them. She seems to be a proper girl who was raised very strictly and religiously and at the same time happened to be molested at a young age. This molestation seemed to go against everything she was raised up on and it opened up a mysterious door of forbidden pleasure, a pleasure that was all the more exciting because it was forbidden throughout her whole life. The only way she can open up her masochistic pleasures and not have any guilt on them is to disconnect herself and play the role of another. When most people are told at a young age that sex is taboo and wrong in order to obtain purity and value, the cathartic theme of sex becomes exciting because to push away from it and then secretly give into it makes it much more erotic for the victim. Severine does in many ways want to exercise power over men, and even though she has no control over what she says or wants in the brothel, she can control it emotionally through the weaknesses of men. Severine wants pleasure but she herself doesn't even understand the pleasure she is looking for so she pursues the pleasure in having men forcing it onto her, which opens her up in learning more about her own sexuality and what she likes.
There is one short scene in the film that shows a sort of seduction or molestation scene of a young Severine which makes sense when the next flashback sequence is of a young Severine in mass refusing the Blessed Sacrament because she feels she has been defiled and does not deserve the body of Christ. This is probably the origin of Severine's disconnect to reality in what she believes is 'good' and 'bad' or 'right' and 'wrong'. Her molestation seems to be somewhat part of a cause of her heading to the brothel because she has a sort of repetition compulsion to repeat what she experienced as a young child. She believes this brothel will have her find some sort of encounter with a man who can bring her back to her earlier traumatic memories. The first time she is there she lets her hair down which is symbolic in her sexual freedom in her finally being herself. And when Anais sees that Severine is seeking someone to be rough and firm with her, she herself offers a firm hand to keep her in line.
Belle de Jour is considered one of the most popular films among feminists who study imagery and sexuality because the female protagonist gets to play out all her sexual pleasures and fantasies, break every rule she has been brought up with or was told is forbidden and still doesn't get punished in the end. And yet by many feminists she is considered not an actualized feminist because she never realizes she's very metastasized or is proud of it. Severine is a masochist who likes to be handled roughly but she never can admit her own pleasures to herself, and accept them for what they are. Interestingly she also has various little turn-ons that the movie wisely never explains, because they are hers and hers alone like the sounds of carriage bells and the sound of cats purring in which are sounds that accompany the film's famous fantasy scenes. And yet there are scenes in the reality sequences that aren't explained as well and left to the viewer's perverted imagination like most famously: what was in the box that one of the clients brought in to Madame Anais? I believe what Bunuel is saying is that the literal truth doesn't matter and yet the truth that the audience brings to the scene is truly what is important. (I personally took from that scene was that inside the box was a bumblebee and the client wanted to put it into Severine's sex organ. You can probably picture the rest.) What was inside the box seemed to be a highly popular question throughout Bunuel's life that his fans would ask more often than any of his other films which by nature were much more ambiguous and surreal than Belle de Jour. Bunuel would reply to that question by saying, "whatever you want there to be."
Luis Bunuel has always been one of the most cynical and sarcastic directors of all time, a man who liked to point out the absurdities of people and of human nature through his sardonic dry humor. He was a man full of sexual fetishes, surreal and mistaken identities, and absurdities of normal situations taken into a different context. Many of these themes play along with the main protagonist in Belle de Jour, in which she is a woman of many sexual fetishes and several identities. The character of Henri seems to be a portrayal on the average man. Henri is jealous (or slightly disgusted) at Severine and Pierre's so-called perfect relationship and the way they flaunt it, and he is attracted to Severine's because of her virtue and purity. Maybe in some ways the character of Henri is Bunuel, or the image of most 'normal' men for that matter. I believe Bunuel views the always conventional and somewhat boring husband Pierre as a vapid, dull and completely clueless individual, who has no idea who is wife is and what her desires or fantasies could ever be. Luis Bunuel was probably laughing when writing the tragic outcome of the doting husband for the end of the film, knowing that the beauty of the movies is that we can construct these stories just to see these so called 'pretty boys' finally get their comeuppance. Bunuel is the greatest Spanish Mexican director of all time and one of my personal favorites. I can’t think of another director besides Bergman, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Ford, Godard, Wilder, Kubrick and Fellini that created so many masterpieces on so many levels and had their own personal style imprinted on them.
Bunuel’s early short films like the 16-minute short film, Un Chien Andalou with Salvaldor Dalí were groundbreaking because they featured a series of startling images of a “Freudian nature” most iconically a cow’s eye being slashed open with a razor. Than came L’ Age d’ Or which also featured shocking images and was read to be an attack on Catholicism, and thus, added an even larger scandal than Un Chien Andalou. The right-wing press criticized the film and the police placed a ban on it that lasted 50 years. His early films were so groundbreaking and shocking that it actually started a genre known as the surrealism movement, which now is a film style most commonly used by filmmakers like David Lynch. Luis Bunuel has made some of the greatest films in the world including, Los Olvidados which was about a group of juvenile delinquents living a crime-filled life in the slums of Mexico City, Nazarin which involves a priest trying to live a pure life even though other’s wont let him and The Exterminating Angel which is a farce on a bunch of upper-class guests who go to a dinner party but for some reason cannot leave. Luis Bunuel even continued making classics to the very end of his career with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie which is a sort of companion piece to The Exterminating Angel and The Obscure Object of Desire; a surreal film that has two actresses play the same character.
Luis Bunuel has always been a cynical but playful director and most of his films have always created controversy because of his topics and themes that he chooses to explore and satirize. Belle de Jour was Luis Bunuel's most successful and popular film in Mexico, Italy and Spain, and probably his most accessible. What makes this film interesting is that most audience members in the majority were women and since most of the countries the film premiered in were the ones females were the most sexually repressed, it shows that even traditional women question their sexuality and their sexual freedom. Belle de Jour is considered one of Luis Bunuel's greatest films. It being one of director Martin Scorsese's favorite films, he promoted a 2002 release of the film on DVD and the film is now in critic Roger Ebert's 'Great Movies' list. In 2010, the film was ranked #56 in Empire magazine's list, The 100 Best Films of World Cinema. The ending of Belle de Jour can be looked at as a tragedy but within the world of surrealism it can be looked at as the exact opposite. Surrealism has a large part in the film Belle de Jour because many of Severine's fantasies take a different viewpoint on how the story plays out and how she looks at life. Take for instance the end of the film when Pierre is blind and strapped as a crippled in a wheelchair. In some ways you can look at that as a tragic ending. And yet when Severine invites us into her fantasy, Pierre gets up from the wheel chair and is now able to see, walk, make a drink and discuss with his wife their next planned vacation together. Surrealism isn't like psychology in which psychology is looking for answers. Surrealism knows it doesn't have an answer and is more willing to play along the lines of unanswered questions to see how an audience would emotionally react to them. It's human nature to have a personal lusts and fetishes and the great Luis Bunuel was not afraid to admit that. Some sexual fetishes are still taboo today and as bizarre and strange as most of them are, it's still a part of human nature. As sick as some of the clients were in the film, Severine in many ways is much sicker, because she is ashamed and feels guilty of her personal lusts and masochist desires. She eventually got to act them out but she had to sadly disconnect herself and play a different person to be able to proudly go through with it. It might have seemed cruel for Henri to reveal the truth to Pierre about his wife, but in some ways I understand why he did. Pierre was lied and deceived throughout the film and Severine is responsible for Pierre's current condition. Even today it seems women still have an unfair prejudice compared to men when it comes to them expressing and acting out their sexuality and lustful desires, without them being labeled a 'slut' or a 'tramp'. We are all human and we all desire certain sexual satisfactions whether we are male or female. Repression is an unhealthy thing and to tell a person that it is wrong or a sin for them to think or desire something that is clearly natural is not healthy nor morally right.