49. “Belle de Jour”, Luis Bunuel (1967)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list

Belle de Jour

Belle de Jour

dir. Luis Bunuel scr. Luis Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere based on the book by Joseph Kessel cin. Sacha Vierny with Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Genevieve Page, and Pierre Clementi

In 100 words: In this darkly funny, sexy, and provocative film, Bunuel finds room to address all of his obsessions about the sexual desires of the bourgeois. Belle is a surreal masterpiece: a bored housewife who fulfills her inner fantasies by becoming a prostitute in a Parisian brothel, entertaining odd men with peculiar desires. That Bunuel focuses on a woman’s sexual thoughts and fantasies, even the lewd and filthy ones is casually transgressive. More importantly, he builds a world of ironies and unexpected character details—the family who lives in the brothel, the hilarious posturing of the young gangster, and Severine’s unexpected pleasures.

Other Movies for Context: Oh Bunuel, I love his work so much, and this is always such a treat to watch. When I think of this movie, the one that pops to mind immediately is Sleeping Beauty (2011), by Julia Leigh, because of its similar look and topic. Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2001) and Paul Verhoeven’s Elle (2016) both have Isabelle Huppert playing women with sexual desires that are particularly sadistic, but their directors are intelligent enough to engage with those desires rather than play them up for laughs or quirks.

52. “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”, Jacques Demy (1964)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.


The Umbrellas of Cherbourg aka Les Parapluies de Cherbourg

dir. Jacques Demy scr Jacques Demy cin. Jean Rabier with Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, and Marc Michel

In 100 words: Artifice gives way to a naked display of emotions in this magnificent musical that simultaneously pays homage to Hollywood as it comments on their phoniness. The novelty of having an entirely sung-through musical wears off immediately, but Demy thankfully has more up his sleeves than that: the tragic story of his young lovers is heightened by the sweep of Legrand’s gorgeous jazzy music and Demy’s colorful art design. The overwhelming vivacity of the colors and the music is just cover for the most devastating love story told onscreen that reaches its peak with its stunning coda. Prepare to weep uncontrollably.

Other Movies for Context: Jacques Demy continued his gorgeous partnership with Michel Legrand, the composer for the music here, with his similarly stylish (if more refined pop colors) The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), starring Deneuve again. But obviously, the movie that feels closest to this is La La Land (2016), which has the same jazzy vibe, colorful design, and a similarly devastating love story at its center.