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