Belle de Jour
Director: Luis Buñuel
Based on the book by: Joseph Kessel
In Belle de Jour
, Luis Buñuel interlaces a blooming flower and a self-discovered prostitute. Belle de Jour
is the name of a flower that blooms only during the day. Belle de jour
in the film is the name of a prostitute who works only during the day (afternoons to be precise). My proposal in interpreting this film is that the prostitute in her path of self-discovery as a non-conformist is a blooming flower.
The story is set in Paris during the 1960s. Séverine, a frigid woman married to a doctor, Pierre, daydreams of having masochistic intercourse with strangers while sharing no physical intimacy whatsoever with her husband. Led by her own desires and by a reference to a high-class brothel, she ends up with a double life: she is a prostitute during the afternoons and a housewife the rest of the time. Her husband remains unaware almost throughout the entire film until he is shot and left disabled by Marcel, a man who has become obsessed with Séverine. The story ends after Séverine leaves the brothel to take care of her husband, but, interestingly enough, the last scene is another daydream. The story ends with no end.
In more ways than one, the star of the film is Séverine. Buñuel seems to have enjoyed painting her and her dreams on screen. Amidst bright vivid backgrounds and striking scenes of parks and forests, she appears aloof, distant, quiet, and icy. Her hair is almost white and she is always shown in dark, drab, or unappealingly light-coloured clothes. She is a severe character in a very real world and the only attraction coming from her is her world of dreams, vibrant as she is not, and her conflicts, dramatic as she is not.
Séverine and Pierre sleep in twin beds, symbols of their marital relations. They also spend their days in lives as parallel as their beds; while he spends most of his time working, she shops and daydreams. She shares a luxurious apartment and car with a dotting husband. Séverine is a quintessential bourgeois housewife, a classical unattractive grey character...when she conforms to her role.
Yet, when she doesn’t...she daydreams. In her dreams, she is not in the realistic city but in the romantic countryside; she is not in 1960s but in a time that hints of the 1800s; even when her husband is in her dream, she does not have sexual relations with him but with strangers; she is not treated tenderly, as her husband treats her, but aggressively and sadistically; the only music heard throughout the movie are the bells that ‘announce’ that she is daydreaming; even the clothes she wears in her dreams are different, they are bright red. She becomes a different character when she does not conform to her role.
She is a non-conformist, an anarchist, a rule-breaker. She is a walking rejection of the ‘pretty reality’ of the world. She stands out as somebody who wants no part in the world, especially in the life she leads.
However, when she decides to step into the world she wants, the ones her dreams led her to, her life falls apart. When she rejects conventions, her world rejects her. She is then ‘trapped’ into conformity by a ‘disabled world’, to which she knows she owes too much to leave again.
And yet, the film’s last statement is her dream. She refuses to conform.
Buñuel sprays many sub-stories in this film and fills it with numerous people and objects that merit special attention and much analysis. I was, however, mesmerised by the main character and focused on her and her daydreams. If you watch this movie, and you like it, you could add a review that centres on another one of the many symbols the director gives and the many perspectives he invites us to take.