Monday, August 07, 2017

Belle de Jour

While most films at the NZIFF have been released in the last 12 months, there is usually at least one old film brought back for nostalgic reasons. This year it is Belle de Jour, a French film from 1967 with the risque premise that there are a small number of middle class Parisian housewives who secretly work in brothels.

From what little I'd read about the film and what I've seen of other French films of the era I was worried that it might consist of elaborate set-pieces with little in the way of coherent story line. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is a narrative tying it all together.

Séverine Serizy (played by Catherine Deneuve) is a young, beautiful and always elegantly dressed wife of Pierre, a hansom doctor (Jean Sorel). Séverine is aloof and vacant both in public and equally in private with her husband. It is clear that they rarely have sex, which frustrates him but he respects her wishes. But Séverine day dreams elaborate sadistic sex fantasies usually involving her husband. When a friend of hers mentions that a mutual acquaintance is secretly working in a brothel her interest is piqued, and later when another friend of Pierre's mentions brothels she questions him until he mentions an address. At the brothel the equally elegant Madame Anaïs gives her the double entendre name of Belle de Jour and overcomes her reluctance to have sex with the clients by realising that Séverine responds to orders rather than requests.

While her work at the brothel is more exciting than her domestic life it isn't as exciting as her fantasies. But she does begin to show a tiny bit more affection toward Pierre. Séverine secret desire to be dominated (and possibly humiliated) is completely at odds with the burgeois conventions of her marriage. There is no indication that her fantasies reflect how she would really like to be treated or if they are just an extreme, and exciting version of what she really wants contained within the safe confines of her mind.

The eroticism of the film is based more on what is implied than what is shown. Fashions, hairstyles and makeup change over the decades and by today's standards Catherine Deneuve looks 30 something (but was actually 24), while Jean Sorel looks almost 10 years younger than her (but was actually 33).

Ian's rating 3.5/5

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