Combustible Celluloid
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With: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Geneviève Page
Written by: Jean-Claude Carrière, Luis Buñuel
Directed by: Luis Buñuel
MPAA Rating: R
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 102
Date: 05/24/1967

Belle de Jour (1967)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Surreal People

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If Martin Scorsese's recent films have been disappointing (Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence), at least he is using his power as a filmmaker to re-release classic films to the general public. Thanks to Scorsese, Mirimax picked up the distribution rights to the "lost" classic by director Luis Buñuel (who is probably most famous for slicing up that cow eye in 1928's Un Chien Andalou). Its subject matter understandably offended some upon its initial release, but it's the best film you can see in the theaters right now.

Beautiful and 22-at-the-time Catherine Deneuve plays a bored housewife to a rich and handsome doctor. We are treated right away to one of her domination fantasies in which her husband and two coach drivers tie her to a tree and whip her. We then "wake up" in her bedroom as she and her husband slip off to sleep in separate beds. As the film progresses, her fantasies become more and more slyly integrated into the film. Deneuve, playing a character called Severine, gets a daytime job working at a whorehouse in order to satiate her secret fantasies. In the process, a young killer becomes obsessed with her and an old friend of the family drops in for a fling and discovers her there.

If you think you know where the film is going, you don't. Buñuel and his scriptwriter Jean-Claude Carriére are masters, and they swing us around in so many different directions, that any number of conclusions may be drawn as to the purpose of the film, and they'd all be correct. The mark of a classic. It gives the audience credit and allows them to bring their own thoughts and experiences into the film. Something that has been missing from cinema for a long time.

DVD Details: Miramax released a DVD in 2002. I'm always up for Luis Bunuel, the take-no-prisoners Spanish filmmaker who turned his own personal fetishes, fantasies and dreams into great, funny, mind-blowing cinema. Belle de Jour, which was re-released in 1995 thanks to Martin Scorsese, is one of his best. It follows blonde, demure housewife Severine (Catherine Deneuve) as she takes a "day job" as a prostitute, simultaneously fulfilling her fantasies of degradation and the more bizarre fantasies of her suitors. (What the heck is in that box, anyway?) I tried listening to the commentary track by Bunuel scholar Julie Jones but hearing her say things like "Catherine Deneuve" and "Luis Bunuel" in her nasally Texas twang made me switch it off.

In 2012, the Criterion Collection followed up with a superb new Blu-Ray. Unfortunately, the commentary track by Michael Wood is just as bad as the one on the Miramax DVD. New extras, besides a high-def transfer and uncompressed monaural soundtrack, include a video piece featuring writer and sexual-politics activist Susie Bright and film scholar Linda Williams, a new interview with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, vintage TV interviews with Carrière and Deneuve, trailers, and a liner notes essay by critic Melissa Anderson, plus a 1970s interview with director Luis Buñuel.

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