Belle de Jour (1967)

“I will pump you once for good! I will pump you once for good! I will pump you once for good!”

‘Belle de Jour’, directed by Luis Buñuel in 1967, includes the same basic preoccupations as the director’s later movie ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’ from 1972, but the earlier film has less of the wilful surrealism and fewer knotty dream sequences. It follows a bored, upper-middle class housewife called Séverine who decides to become an escort to try and reignite her lust for her husband and for life in general. The film is not explicit, but filled with numerous suggested taboos from necrophilia to paedophilia. In one notable scene the taboo is unrevealed: a Japanese customer makes a request of the escorts involving the use of ‘something’ in a box. Every time he opens the box a strange, insect buzzing is heard, and the reactions of the escorts range from fear (on the face of an old-hand) to accepted interest from Séverine. It’s a film about boredom  and the lack of a real-world stimulation that a certain level of society brings. As with his 1972 film, Buñuel’s characters are all trapped in a vapid round of dinner parties and social engagements that mean nothing, and it is only through a series of erotic and transgressive encounters with men that Séverine can feel anything. It gives the viewer the sense that Buñuel is expertly slicing through polite society and displaying what lies beneath the surface. Séverine, by her nature, is a passive character, but the richness and personality of the movie comes from the men she meets: sleazy factory owners, a submissive Professor and a violent but compelling gangster who ultimately drives the film towards a violent but ambiguous ending.

Would I recommend it? Yes – watch it with ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’ or even try Lars von Trier’s 2013 epic ‘Nymphomaniac’, a film that shares similar sensibilities to ‘Belle de Jour’ but with a far more explicit approach.

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