Séverine can't stand being at home all day just waiting for her husband who doesn't thrill her anymore, so she looks for thrills elsewhere instead. After hearing the address of a low-key brothel she goes to visit and is quickly hired. She goes under the name "Belle de jour", the girl who only works afternoons.
Buñuel's incredible ways of telling completely surreal and twisted stories on a respectable and intellectual level are impressive, but "Belle de jour" always interested me because it seemed to differ from a lot of his films. It attracted me as the odd one out that seemed less surreal and more just a good drama. It's based on the novel by Joseph Kessel, and a lot of different works of arts have been based on it, or at least the main idea of it. I have always been fascinated by it without actually having read his novel. There's just something thrilling about the seemingly everyday-wife who goes out to become a prostitute. There's also, of course, the much more recent "Belle de jour" story that was written in a diary by the woman living that life. But that's a different story, so don't confuse the two!
"Belle de jour" is about the housewife Séverine who was sexually abused growing up. Now she's living seemingly happy with her husband but she's actually carrying around a lot of repressed feelings, which have caused her to distance herself sexually from her husband. one example is that they sleep in different beds. One day she hears about this low-key and classy brothel so she decides to go there for a meeting, and when the meeting's over she's a prostitute. Before deciding if she really wants to go through with it she stays away from it for a week, but eventually finds her way back. "Belle de jour", the prostitute is born. The name comes from how she can only work from 2 to 5 to keep this a secret.
The movie lets us follow her different interactions with fellow prostitutes and the odd meetings with clients, and for a part of the film that's what the story is focusing on. But the further into it we get, we see how much Séverine is enjoying this life. But she also knows that she has a good man in her life, and things take a turn for the worse when a client becomes part of her life. This mysterious and in every way bad man is attractive to her lost soul, but she knows it has to end somehow.
What reminds us that we are indeed watching a Luis Buñuel movie are the sudden jumps into her past and into her fantasies. We're rarely warned before a jump so it's not always easy to tell if we're watching a fantasy or a real client. Had it been a recent film by some independent filmmaker doing it, I probably would've judged it and felt that the director didn't know how to handle the material. But Luis Buñuel manages to take away all of the typical transitions and still make it work without losing us too much. Once we figure out that fantasies are involved, the movie takes on a new life. By the end of it it's easy to be confused with what Buñuel actually wanted to tell us, and maybe the movie was more surreal that you originally feel while watching it. I think that's a very strong point for this movie. Luis Buñuel knew exactly what he was doing with his story and there are several ways to interpret the story, and what I like the most is that even the simplest explanation is okay!
I was gonna go into details regarding what I think about the style of the film, but I will just leave it by saying that the flat and boring look of the film worked perfectly with our lead character. The reason I don't want to go into detail with it is because I did the mistake of reading an IMDb threat about it that went on forever, and it just reminded me of how stupid people are. I respect their opinions, I do, but not the way they choose to bring their opinions out. So therefor you will only get that tiny description of my opinion in this matter: it has a flat and boring look to it that I actually really liked because it worked with the world Buñuel painted up around our Séverine.
And that leads me to Séverine! Catherine Deneuve looks absolutely smashing (now that's a silly term to use!). Séverine's innocence mixed with her high class lifestyle and good manners made her a very attractive woman, but having Catherine Deneuve in the role also made her extremely sexy. Deneuve sure was a fox! She plays the role perfectly and charms the viewer every step of the way, even at times when it is revealed that she might not be the good girl she appears to be.
"Belle de jour" is another masterpiece by a master. It's not as surreal as some of his films, but the more you think about this movie the more interesting it gets. But even if you choose not to think about it, it's a well-crafted drama that I think is essential viewing. I absolutely adored this movie and I know it's one I will be watching many times to come.