It’s hard to color me excited when a Luis Bunuel film comes my way. Los Olvidados was a surprising exception to my general apathy toward the director’s work, and whenever it comes time for me to sit down and watch one, my expectations are suitably average at best. Looking through his filmography, especially those on the list, I remember thinking a while back that if any film of his would be likely to break that spell of “meh” reactions to Bunuel, it would be Belle de Jour, which bills itself as a frisky and sexual expose into the life of an otherwise ordinary housewife. The recent craze of Fifty Shades of Grey definitely hearkens back to Belle de Jour (whether the author knows it or not), and I always get a kick out of seeing the connections between modern works and classical films – again, whether the creators are aware of it or not. For what it’s worth, I can definitely see how this is so influential across the expanse of cinema, even if, to me, it was an overly simple story with little really going for it, aside from the pure brazenness of what it does for the time period.
Much like Bunuel’s later films, Belle de Jour actually has a plot to run with, and keeps its surrealistic tendencies to the background and ancillary aspects of the screen (though, make no mistake, they are still there). Severine is an average housewife, who fears getting intimate with her husband, most likely so that he will not discover the sado-masochistic fantasies she has. Through a friend of her husband, she is introduced to Madame Anais, who runs a small apartment brothel, and almost impulsively, she decides to join Madame Anais’ business as one of her callgirls, with the namesake of Belle de Jour. The film is crafted very basically, with the essentials of a film to be found here and there, but nothing outstanding. The only thing that is quite noteworthy is, of course, the story, and all the risks it takes with its taboo subject matter, and frequent full and partial nudity from its main star Catherine Deneuve (which is certainly a plus to the male demographic).
There are a few loose strands of other plots, but aside from that, the film is surprisingly free of the surrealist tendencies that Bunuel is so known for, and that would still arise even in his later works. Frankly, I’m thankful for that, even if the resulting film (like this) leaves me with very little to say about it. I may not be lauding it to high heaven, but at least I’m not bitching about it, and for a Bunuel film, that’s definitely a plus for me. This is another one that seems to be more ground-breaking (content-wise) than a “must see”, but if you’re fed up with the weird nonsensical Bunuel and want to see what he can do with an actual plot, this would be a good starting point. The only problem is, it turns out he doesn’t really do a whole lot as a result.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10