Review: Belle de Jour (1967)

The cinematic father of surrealism, Luis Buñuel, wrote and directed Belle de Jour, a film adaptation of Joseph Kessel’s novel of the same name. Sexually charged and evocative, it is a powerhouse of a film and has, duly, become one of the most iconic of its era.

Frigid, upper-class Séverine, played by Catherine Deneuve, is happily married to a handsome surgeon (Jean Sorel) but her violent sexual fantasies, brought on by what is suggested to be sexual abuse as a child, often causes the line between what’s real and what’s imagined to become blurred. After visiting a brothel, she reluctantly decides to spend her afternoons as a prostitute, adopting the name Belle de Jour, as suggested by the confident manager of the brothel, Anais (Geneviève Page). Séverine soon adapts to her new clandestine routine, but when Marcel, one of her clients, starts to become possessive of her and shatters the dream world she had been so confident with as a means of hiding from her tortured mind.

I have an idea. Would you like to be called “Belle de Jour”?
Belle de Jour?
Since you only come in the afternoons.
If you wish.

The film is erotic and haunting without the explicitness found in many films of its type, and in the forty-seven years since its release, it has proven to have stood the test of time and remains as effective and enthralling as the day it was first released. Its surrealism and the voyeuristic way in which the film is seen heightens the power of the unexplained scenes and shots that leave viewers with a sense of intrusion on Séverine’s life.

Deneuve plays Séverine with a subtlety and  that has often led to her performance being labeled as ‘emotionless’ and ‘icy’, but it is this quiet intensity that brings such a depth to the film. Her unparalleled beauty makes her painful ordeal even more intense and powerful for viewers, and only increases our sympathy for the troubled woman.

Page’s gives a captivating performance as Anais, and shows her honest interest in the comfort of the women whilst also striving for a successful business. It is clear that she is content with her lifestyle, which comes across as quite powerful given the negative feelings often associated with prostitution.

The sound effects and camera techniques used throughout the film are significant in that they can bring out deeper meanings of particular shots, while also leaving parts of the story up to the interpretation of the viewers, making it a unique experience for each person. Despite the open ended and unexplained fashion of the film, it is a thought provoking and wondrous viewing experience. The recurring image of a horse and cart reverts your imagination back to childhood and gives a plaintive insight into Séverine’s broken youth.

Why can’t you understand? I’m lost. I can’t help it. I can’t resist it. I know I’ll pay dearly. I really can’t live without it.

Belle de Jour is a delicately haunting film and a must-see that always warrants another viewing, even if just to see a different point of view or a different understanding of it. The performances, the artistic cinematography and the beautifully strange settings come together to create one of the most impressive films of the twentieth century.

Rating: ★★★★

This post was for The 1967 in Film Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and myself!

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31 Responses to Review: Belle de Jour (1967)

  1. Thom Hickey says:

    Thanks. Thoughtful review of a brilliantly controlled film. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox (give it a spin).

  2. I enjoyed your write-up about this film, although I’m not certain that I want to see it — it sounds like it may be a little above my head, if you know what I mean. Still, if I come across it, I will give it a try! You are very convincing!

    • Rosie says:

      Don’t worry, I made it sound like a lot more of a heavy film than it is! If you get around to seeing it, do tell me what you think! Thanks for reading!

  3. Pingback: The 1967 in Film Blogathon: Day #1 | The Rosebud Cinema

  4. kristina says:

    very interesting, I haven’t seen this but you’re right about Deneuve’s beauty and talent, she is magnetic and easy to follow through any kind of story. thanks for cohosting this blogathon 🙂

    • Rosie says:

      I’d be interested to see your interpretation of it, it really is quite a fascinating film! Agreed, about Deneuve, that’s what makes her so wonderful to watch!

  5. This sounds like a really thought-provoking film, and the performances sound great! I admit I had not heard of it until you mentioned it for the blogathon. I’m intrigued by movies that really stand the test of time.

    • Rosie says:

      I’m surprised to see how few people have heard of it, to be honest, but I hope I’ve convinced a few more people to watch it! Thank you for co-hosting!

  6. geelw says:

    Excellent review! This makes for an interesting double feature with Roman Polanski’s Repulsion as Deneuve gives an impressive performance in that film that’s in a few ways even more haunting.

  7. Barry says:

    The film rises or falls on the central performance – and it was a performance for the ages! Deneuve conveys the twisted, conflicted nature of the heroine subtly and yet powerfully.

  8. John Greco says:

    A haunting and erotic work as you mention. It is also a brilliant work of cinematic art about secret hidden desires. With this film and REPULSION Deneuve proved herself a fascinating actress.

    • Rosie says:

      This and Repulsion do work very well hand in hand, and as someone mentioned in another comment, they really would make an interesting double bill! Glad you enjoyed it.

  9. Kevyn Knox says:

    Great review of a great film. I was lucky enough to see this film on the big screen once, and it was even more gorgeous in that way – the way cinema should be seen. See ya ’round the web.

  10. Coincidentally I wrote about another afternoon girl (less erotic) just yesterday on my blog, for another Blogathon. Love Catherine Deneuve films. Am yet to watch this one though.

    • Rosie says:

      I just read your post for the other blogathon and it’s a great piece! Such a wonderful film, too! Thanks for reading this, and if you watch it please tell me what you think of it!

      • Oh Lovely! Thank you for reading my ‘Billy Wilder Blogathon’ (I wish you had commented on my blog itself though, doesn’t matter, glad you liked it)
        And, yes, I’ll shall blog about it myself once I get a chance to watch it, and shall let you know.

  11. Of all of the films from lands foreign to me, it is those from France that I have the most trouble getting into. I have a “one of these days” list, and you’ve gotten me to throw another on the pile.

    • Rosie says:

      Wow, I’m surprised to hear that; France seems to be the favourite place for foreign films for most people! This one is unlike other French films, but if you’re interested, I highly recommend Les Parapluies de Cherbourg and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort!

  12. girlsdofilm says:

    One of 1967 faves. It looks great (I love Catherine Deneuve’s YSL wardrobe) and I couldn’t agree with your closing comments more: every time I watch it I see a different nuance or angle that I’m convinced wasn’t there before!

    • Rosie says:

      Ah yes I neglected to mention the beautiful wardrobe! It’s funny, I’d seen this once before, about two years ago, and didn’t think much of it but then decided to write about it for this and was pleasantly surprised at how much I got from it upon a second viewing! Thanks for reading!

  13. I’m glad to hear what you say about a second viewing. I wasn’t very impressed on a first viewing (I’d heard so much), but then it stayed with me, which convinced me I should give it another chance. If you found the same, maybe I will too. Leah

    • Rosie says:

      Of course, some people will enjoy the film more than others, but it’s good to hear you’re willing to give it a second chance like I did! Thanks for reading!

  14. This may very well be my favorite film of all time. I love every damn thing about this movie. Thanks for writing such a wonderful, thoughtful piece on the film.

  15. So…I’ll confess that I’ll watch any film with Deneuve in it (even with the sound off…such a pleasure to watch), but this one left me flat. That said, I agree with most of the points you made; it’s well done across the board. I think I may just not ‘get’ it.

    After this nice write-up I may have to give it another try. 🙂

    • Rosie says:

      Oh, god yes, me too, I’d watch ANYTHING with her in it! Maybe do give it another go if you feel like it. A second viewing improved it significantly for me, but of course everyone will have their own opinions on it. Thanks for reading!

  16. Le says:

    Definetely thought-provoking. As much as I like to create theories of surrealist films such as “The Discret Charm of the Burgeouise” and “”L’age D’Or” (pardon my French), I couldn’t imagine a meaning for the end. I was relievd when I learned that Buñuel himself didn’t had a meaning for it.
    Isn’t Catherine Deneuve a French gift for humanity?
    Thanks for hosting such a great blogathon!

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