Belle de Jour, France, 1967
Dir: Luis Bunuel
Cast: Catharine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli
Belle de Jour was Luis Buñuel’s 29th film as writer and director. Buñuel began his career as an artist in the 1920s, working alongside other surrealists like Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dali. It his relationship with the latter that formed the genesis of Bunuel’s first project, a short film called Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog). Dali and Bunuel are credited as co-directors, and released the film in 1929. The movie quickly gained infamy for portraying graphic images, particularly one of an eye being slit open with a razor (they actually used an eye from a deceased cow for the scene).
The two friends and collaborators would go on to direct their first feature film together as well, L'Age d'Or (The Golden Age) in 1930. The film, like its predecessor, was criticized around its native France and other countries for being blasphemous and subversive. Dali and Bunuel went through creative differences while making the film and the two never worked together again. Bunuel, so outraged at the negative response to his work quit filmmaking and left France, not to return again for over three decades.
Bunuel directed some short documentaries throughout the 30s, but spent most of his time living and working in New York at the Museum of Modern Art. He returned to narrative filmmaking in the late 1940s, and would go on to direct several masterpieces in Mexico, including Los Olvidados, The Exterminating Angel, and Simon of the Desert. In the late 1960s, however, he began making films in France again and directed some of his best work there including Belle de Jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and That Obscure Object of Desire.
Catherine Deneuve was a blonde bombshell in the 1960s. After starring in Roman Polanski’s brilliant psychological thriller Repulsion two years earlier, Bunuel cast her as Severine, a naïve young housewife who fantasizes about being sexually deprived by other men. Unbeknownst to her oblivious husband, Severine decides to join a small brothel and renames herself “Belle de Jour” –- beauty of the day. Deneuve’s portrayal as a destitute and bored housewife growing up in the swinging 60s is cold and distant, perfect for Bunuel’s style of fantasy and satire.
Belle de Jour remains one of France’s most iconic films. It’s the typical subversive and counter-cultural film that only the French in the 60s could produce. Bunuel was already 67 years old when this film was released, and he would be 77 by the time he directed his last picture in 1977. Bunuel grew up in an era when the 19th Century was being forgotten and the 20th Century was making its mark. The 1920s saw a rush of great artists and writers flock to Paris, like Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The year this film was released, 1967, was a very pivotal year in movies. Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate and In the Heat of the Night were all released that year. It was the beginning of the end of the studio system and the dawn of the age when directors had creative control over their work. Bunuel would make four more films after Belle de Jour. He passed away in 1983 at the age of 83.