The one line synopsis you get for this film is, a frigid young wife becomes a prostitute in the afternoons. And while that is on the outset accurate, the experience of her burgeoning self-discovery (we only briefly see a moment of her as a child refusing communion) is somewhat more complicated and aided by a series of unfortunate events.
When we meet Catherine Deneuve and her young husband, she refuses his affection and a wild attack ensues on her. She’s pulled out of a nineteenth century horse carriage, dragged into the forest, tied and whipped. We aren’t far into this shocking happenstance when we’re smash-cut to the reality of it being a dream. The young woman, called Severine appears to be utterly bored with her medical student husband, and instead indulges in creative BDSM games in her head. Something I always hope most women are doing.
Her life seems mostly taken up with hanging out with other well-off ladies and playing tennis. Deneuve sleep-walks through most of this, until she hears from a friend about an acquaintance who is selling herself for extra cash. Before long Severine has made her way to the madam who arranges these trysts and with tremendous patience works her into the game, giving her the Belle Du Jour working- designation. All in all this seems to be a bad fit for this lady, and the sequences of her resistance are a little uncomfortable but not horrifying. One feels like Brunuel has excused himself from the abuse of women by having this woman actually crave a kind of abuse. And so we have a kind of masculine fantasy of a beautiful untamed horse that longs to be ridden. I have only spent a modicum of my youth skimming the old forums in men’s sex magazines, but it’s clear to me that this kind of story is one that engages with men. But I’m always complaining that films aren’t adult enough, so let’s press on.
Before long Belle is engaged by a curious, nearly freakish young thug of a man. He’s skinny, and has metal teeth. He carries a sword cane and indulges in a kind of baroque violent attitude that seems to have our Belle captivated. He openly degrades her, threatens to leave because she has a beauty mark, but stays and in the end wants her devoted to him. Things go awry from here, and Brunuel does a few heavy-handed movie things that are a disappointment to me. First he signals a disaster by having Severine’s husband eyeball a wheelchair stationed inexplicably on the sidewalk. Now as a medical student this should have gotten no double take, but he’s taken with it as an oddity telling us, in the old craft navvy, that someone’s gonna end up there. The next thing that happens is our young steal-toothed thug is going to be self-indulgent and cause some problems. These come in the form of my least favorite story-telling crutch, the firearm.
The end is less than satisfying and also in Brunuel style, quite confusing, suggesting that Severine lives in her head anyway, so the unfortunate events really don’t touch her.
All in all it’s a distracting romp, but neither very sexy, nor enlightening. Not what I’m looking for from my mature European art-film mavens to throw up. IT’s fun to practice your French with.
On Prime for a few bucks.