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Article

Belle de Jour

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DESPERATE HOUSEWIFE Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour
Everett Collection

Belle de Jour

type:
Movie
Current Status:
In Season
mpaa:
R
performer:
Catherine Deneuve, Pierre Clementi, Jean Sorel
director:
Luis Bunuel
distributor:
Miramax
author:
Luis Bunuel, Jean-Claude Carriere
genre:
Romance, Erotic, Foreign Language, Drama

We gave it an A

It may not seem particularly scandalous by today’s standards, but when the French import Belle de Jour (1967, Not Rated, 1 hr., 40 mins.) first hit American art houses, it was considered pretty outrageous, pervy stuff. Directed by Spanish troublemaker Luis Buñuel, the film kicks off with a doozy of a scene that, at first, seems straight out of a 19th-century novel, as a demure woman (Catherine Deneuve) and her husband (Jean Sorel) ride in a horse-drawn carriage down a country lane. When the buggy comes to a stop, he drags her out and ties her to a tree, where a pair of coachmen are instructed to whip and rape her. Did that really just happen? No, actually. It turns out it’s all an S&M daydream: Deneuve’s character, Séverine, is a bored and icy bourgeois housewife who merely fantasizes about being degraded. Her wild, erotic imagination becomes real soon enough, though, when she starts working in a Parisian brothel, where all sorts of creepy men act out their kinkiest fetishes on her willing flesh. Just released on a new Criterion Blu-ray, Belle de Jour has never looked better — and neither has its star. Deneuve, then 24, is blindingly beautiful. She doesn’t say much in the film, but she manages to express Séverine’s excitement and fear, her shame and her ecstasy. And even though she cheats on her husband with men who like to be humiliated, she always manages to be sympathetic — even at the end when her double life has tragic consequences. We’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s not in Buñuel’s button-pushing film. But one thing that’s never in doubt is that we’re watching a masterpiece. A