Belle de Jour: A New Addition to the Criterion Collection

My boyfriend (who I lovingly refer to as “the manz”) loves movies. Actually, that’s an understatement. He adores movies; everything from the screenplay, to the cinematography, to the smell of the paper in the DVD case when it’s opened for the first time. The manz, most likely as a pregame pump up for shooting his graduate thesis film, has been re-watching a lot of his favorite movies and bringing me along for the ride.

I’ve always been a movie fan, but my interests lie mostly in slapstick comedies, gangster movies, and really bad musicals (Don’t believe me? Last night, I livetweeted watching Grease 2 for the millionth time). One thing that I have loved about being with the manz is that he gets so excited to introduce me to films that I’ve never gotten around to seeing. His ever-growing assortment of DVDs is hovering around one thousand and, on top of that, he owns about a third of the Criterion Collection, so we are never out of options when it comes to watching movies.

The Criterion Collection just released Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour on Blu-Ray this past January, so of course the manz had to snatch it up as part of his collection. He always told me how much he loved this film, going so far as to write a research paper about it in graduate school, so I was excited to finally get to see it for myself.

Belle de Jour Cover
Courtesy of The Criterion Collection

The films of Luis Buñuel are known for their surrealist blending of reality and fantasy, and Belle de Jour was a beautiful example of that. Following a sexually repressed housewife named Séverine, Belle de Jour explores the discovery of sexuality through fantasy and experimentation. At the beginning of the film, Séverine closed up tight, incapable of even sharing a bed with her husband. Although he is frustrated with her unwillingness to connect with him physically, he respects her decisions and gives her the space she desires. Séverine finds herself deep in daydreams where she is often times being whipped or humiliated by her husband and other men that are present in her life at the time. She discovers that these fantasies don’t disgust her, but instead excite her sexually. After discovering that an acquaintance has started working as a prostitute, a curious Séverine finds herself in the waiting room of a brothel, ready to take on her alias of Belle de Jour.

I think my favorite part of this movie is watching Séverine let loose and explore her physical needs as a woman. When the film begins, every inch of Séverine’s body is rigid, even though her personality is quite warm. As she begins to take on clients, Séverine discovers the power that comes with a knowledge of sexuality. Soon, she is able to share a bed with her husband, and she becomes more comfortable with her thoughts and in her own skin.

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All in all, I think that Belle de Jour is an amazing character study. Catherine Deneuve’s incredibly nuanced performance of Séverine and Luis Buñuel’s blurring of reality and fantasy make this film an intricate portrayal of human sexuality.

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