Friday, March 11, 2016

Catering for Oneself

Is it at the end of a long dream that satisfaction in love and sex may be found? Can the two be found together? 1967's Belle de Jour superficially seems to be about a bored, wealthy housewife whose libido induces her to become a bordello prostitute while her husband is at home during the day. But this is a Luis Bunuel film and anyone who presumes from this fact that there's more going on in the movie would be absolutely right. It's perhaps the closest thing there is to a spiritual predecessor to Eyes Wide Shut; it's also beautiful and very subtly cruel in an inimitably Bunuel way.

Severine (Catherine Deneuve) is the icy, beautiful, and purportedly virtuous wife of the wealthy Pierre (Jean Sorel), who is devoted to her but is forced to beg her to do things like sleep in the same bed with him--the two normally sleep in twin beds.

The image reminds one of Hollywood movies from a decade earlier when the Hays code forbade the sight of a man and woman in one bed together, ludicrously obliging scenes of married couples in twin beds. There's no mandate for this in a 1967 French film, and since it seems to be in an effort to placate Severine's needs, it seems to imply she embodies the kind of ridiculous prescribed morality of the Hays code. Considering the fact that she's secretly a prostitute, it indicates the hypocrisy of censors as well.

But it's not just a film industry that's indicated. Subtle surreal moments in the film--like references to cats being let out appearing in one person's dream and then showing up in reality from other people--seem to indicate the film is the audience's dream as well. Which is of course the nature of film. Perhaps it's also an indication that the kind of divided sexuality Severine believes herself trapped in is only another level of unified sexual fantasy.

Or that the innocence she seems to embody for Pierre and his friends, the rarefied air she needs to escape from in her activities as a prostitute--is itself another sexual fantasy. The implications aim square at Bunuel's favourite target: the bourgeoisie.

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