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Belle De Jour  

Belle De Jour, made in 1967, is a film from Luis Bunuel, a director who specialized in surrealism. The plot is supposed to be about a woman, who is unaffectionate toward her husband, and who suddenly decides to work at a brothel during the day.

We get a glimpse of some rather bizarre dreams of the main character, Severine (Catherine Deneuve). At the beginning, she dreams that she is in a carriage with her husband, and after having rejected his passionate pleas, the husband orders the carriage to be stopped, and for the riders to tie her up and whip her in a sort of spontaneous S&M act. It is a rather unsettling thing to witness for the first time, because of the casual attitude of the director. For one thing, it's a lengthy scene, two or three minutes of it being taken up with quiet shots of the carriage riding through the French countryside as the credits silently flash on the screen. And there is nothing in the scene to suggest that this is even a dream until the next shot when she talks to her husband in bed that she just happened to have had a dream in which the carriage was involved.

The fact she is willing to deal with such unpredictable characters from her dreams in her real life later on in the brothel is a sign Severine can only enjoy sex if there is some threat of danger. But then we also get some other strange moments besides, dreams and otherwise, that seem to exist only so the director can exercise his talent of blasphemy toward all aspects of society, from the church and state to the upper-class, which is of course what he is famous for. The most amusing of these scenes is one where a customer gets off on pretending to be an inept servant to the queen and who needs to be punished. And the final portion of the film certainly will not make sense for a person who demands a somewhat sane and easily explainable ending.

I actually read in Showcase Television's notice board that Bunuel`s films are like Monty Python. I somehow doubt that to be the case, since Python is attempting to get many laughs from their surreal sketches. Bunuel doesn't even attempt to force a laugh out of the audience. Everything is played utterly straight, and the viewer will have to decide whether it's funny or just insane. But the utter confidence of the director in pulling off this odd concoction is certainly a reason to see this film.

David Macdonald

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