Séverine Serizy is a beautiful and elegant French housewife, married to esteemed doctor, but suffers from both sexually frigidity and frustration, the two sleeping in different beds and, after a year of marriage, Séverine still a virgin. One day, she hears about the local brothels and after a hesitant start, she takes up a job working as a prostitute there, under the alias of Belle de jour.
The Typical Overactor in a Buñuel Movie here is Pierre Clémenti as Marcel, a young spy who becomes besotted with Séverine leading to terrible consequences. Even though he's stunning to look at in a dirty sort of way, the scene in which he confronts Séverine contained some of the most camp acting I've seen, especially when he "span around in anger." Ho ho ho. However, this performer is probably my only serious foible with Belle de jour, which is otherwise an ethereal, sexy masterpiece. Catherine Deneuve is the epitome of icy fragility; kitted out in designer labels and haute couture, there is still a wild longing in her eyes, one that she cannot convey to her peers, and becomes unleashed only in the bedroom. From the very first scene, where husband and wife trot down a pathway led by two men on a horse and cart, only for the husband to command the two drivers to tie the wife up and rape her, we realise that Séverine dreams of sexual encounters wild and bizarre, yet cannot act them out. Here is a woman who has rape fantasies, yet can't even force herself to touch her husband. Dodgy, but her stint in the high-class brothel soon helps her act out her fantasies and release her inner inhibitions. And in every one of her (mis)adventures, Deneuve's perfect face is the mask of nuance and subtlety.
The blur between fantasy and reality is forever prevalent throughout the film, so much so that the various flashbacks to Séverine's childhood, random short episodic scenes make one question what is real and what is fiction. The ending remains a mystery but I have my own theories about it, and here is a film that says more about human desires and female repression than anything I see in the women's mags of today. Good work.
PS. I have a rather beautiful Belle je jour postcard that came free with the DVD, and I'm feeling kind so if anyone wants it, e-mail me your address and I'll post it to you. :)