Belle De Jour, Blu-ray (1967/2011)

by | Jan 23, 2012 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

Belle De Jour, Blu-ray (1967/2011)
Director: Luis Bunuel
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Michael Piccoli
Studio: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection 593 [1/17/12]
Video: 1.66 for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: French PCM mono
Subtitles: English
Extras: Commentary track by Michael Wood, author of the book Belle De Jour; Susie Bright and Linda Williams on sexual politics etc.; Interview with Bunuel’s screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere; Interviews with Carriere and Deneuve from French TV program Cinema; Original & release trailers; Printed booklet with essay by critic Melissa Anderson and 1970s interview with Bunuel
Length: 100 minutes
Rating: *****

Articles keep referring to the “porcelain” quality of Deneuve, which seems to capture her fascination to many, and part of why Bunuel used her for the turned-off young Paris housewife by night and a secret prostitute in a bordello by day. (Hence her bordello name: Belle of the Daytime.) It was actually a much more repressed and quiet role than the one she had two years earlier in Polanski’s Repulsion.  The film fits right in with Bunuel’s interest in sexual kinks, as well as his masterful use of surrealism and absurdity to point up faults in societal mores and class differences.
A quick shot is included to show a molestation of Deneuve’s character when she was a little girl, which might explain her compulsion to subject herself to wild masochistic perversions—both in her daydreams and by actually going to the bordello whose address she got from her husband’s friend.  Severine (take note of her name) is completely cold with her surgeon husband, but takes fetishistic pleasure in a strange Japanese client at the bordello who completely turns off the other two girls. (My main recollection from first seeing the film in the late 60s was the sumo wrestler-type’s little box which made a buzzing sound, but you never see what’s in it. The first question some important diplomat asked Bunuel about the film was “What was in the box?” Bunuel replied “What do you want to be in it?”)
The totally ambiguous ending to the film is an unexpected bit of Bunuel absurdity and surrealism. It’s like having clips in the extras of a DVD of two different endings to a particular film, except they are both in the same scene—one after the other. It made me suspect Bunuel was satirizing typical Hollywood bigwigs who would insist the film have a happy ending or they would not release it.
The Blu-ray transfer looks glorious, and as usual with The Criterion Collection, the bonus features are all most worthwhile viewing. There are usually lengthy excerpts from French TV shows which make the American viewer realize that even public TV in this country would never devote airtime to such aspects of art cinema. (Just get used to everybody smoking.)
—John Sunier

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