BELLE DE JOUR
DIRECTOR: LUIS BUNUEL
COUNTRY: FRANCE 1966
CINEMATOGRAPHY: SACHA VIERNEY
CAST: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Genevieve Page, Francisco Rabal, Pierre Clementi, Francoise Fabian, Maria Latour, Francois Blance, Georges Marchal, Francois Maistre, Macha Meril Muni, Dominique Dandrieux, Bernard Fresson, Brigitte Parmentier
WRITTEN BY: Novel by Joseph Kessel of the Academie Francaise
SUPER FEATURES: Bunuel, of course.
Although this is considered one of Luis Bunuel's masterpieces, it really isn't. But it is, unlike many of his films, one of the easiest films to
follow along, and enjoy.
And there are many reasons for that. It is filmed in glorious color, which Luis Bunuel had just at the time started working with (1966) and it is
gloriously, and carefully, photographed for the best effect. And it is impeccably designed and written to get the most out of the main character,
though the novel itself is more pointy towards the the class divisions and their life.
In this story, Severine (Catherine Deneuve) is the wife of a well to do man, but their marriage seems to be not inspired. She is bored. And in
the process of meeting a friend she finds out that many wives of her stature sometimes visit a house or two and participate in some extra
curricular activities outside the marriage. Severine, decides that she will try that, in the hope that it will eventually spark something in her own marriage, it is presumed, although, it also appears that the whole thing may start out as a bit of curiosity.
Severine had inquired from her husband whether he had been to one of those houses and he admits that he had, and his answer is vague, and by all intents rather vulgar for Severine. The suggestion is immediately made that the main reason why they just do not have an active, or interesting, marriage, is because they just do not seem to enjoy each other's company very much. She seems to go along with him, and he is polite enough that he does not force his wife (a trend in many Bunuel films), an unusual bit, which suggests that he is also participating in some extra curricular activities of his own.
In the process of being a part of the various customers she comes to meet, during the afternoons, she ends up liking one man, who is
becoming attached to her, and she to him, despite the fact that he is a shady character. And when he realizes that he can not win her over
at all, he decides to take the whole thing in his own hands. He waits for the husband and shoots him, and eventually he gets shot by a policeman and Severine is now taking care of her husband.
And this is the easy part of this film.
The hard part, is how it is filmed, and how Luis Bunuel gets into his characters' mind. The film is full of bits and pieces inside Severine's head (also a famous Bunuel trademark) and we constantly see how she sees things, or at least how she feels about them. All is well here, until the resolution of the film. Her husband is better, and finally gets out of his wheelchair, only to have Severine get distracted by the sound of a carriage on the road, outside their mansion. And the film closes.
Luis Bunuel, through out his career of film making, had always entered into any of his characters' mind, and show us how they thought. And then we see how they react, maybe based on their thinking. The fact that we see that these characters rarely do what they feel, is probably Luis Bunuel's greatest comment in any of his films. We know how Severine feels, but her excitement seems to derive from a completely different feeling which her husband does not provide. Be it forced, or demanded, she responds. But given her chance, she tends to be shy and not take any initiative in her personal enjoyment.
This style of filming, which is not well used nowadays, has almost been forgotten, and considering that this film is now thirty years old, it is quite amazing how well his style survives today, in a world of fast paced films, that do not have half the depth that Luis Bunuel comes up with in a few minutes. It all appears in front of us, so immediate, and so ready to show us another feeling inside a character. By comparison, American film making tends to use exposition, to show us these things, and then pretty much tells us, with hints, what the most likely result is going to be. Luis Bunuel, himself, does not make judgments about what he thinks, or how his characters will do.... they just do, and the result is always open for us to figure out what it all means, and most likely -- my feeling -- to come up with a way that forces an audience to make a judgment and decision for themselves, rather than preach.... and this from a man who was brought up in a monastery of Dominican Friars.
If you have never seen a Luis Bunuel film, take a plunge. While they are phenomenally well written, they also make for outstanding thinking
pieces, that never let up. His style is smooth, and specially well thought out. Never showy, never judgmental. Just let the characters live, and watch the details... sometimes they are important.
In later years, Luis Bunuel became a bit more unusual, and one of his last films (Le Phamtome de Liberte -- The Phantom of Liberty) appears quite disjointed with the exception of a theme that repeats itself, in this case, freedom is an illusion, because someone is always around to ruin
it in some way. I am pretty sure that many times he felt this way about his films, when they were constantly being criticized by the Catholic
church, and other institutions for their endless attack on the hypocrisy that many of his characters partake in. But, unlike many directors, this
man has a soft spot for people's errors, and their decisions.... and he makes the best, and fullest, out of these moments with a camera... an
exceptional film maker, that rarely made a bad film, and they are all unusual and truly enjoyable to watch....
A must see, for serious film lovers.
Should also catch THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE, THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, EL ( THIS SECRET PASSION ), VIRIDIANA, TRISTANA, and just about anything he did. If you ever get a chance catch his version of Robinson Crusoe... magnificent.
Please email me with questions and/or comments
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