Belle de Jour (5 stars)

(18) 99min

The very great Spanish filmmaker and surrealist Luis Buñuel wrote in his fantastic autobiography My Last Breath that Belle de Jour was ‘my biggest commercial success, which I attribute more to the marvellous whores than to my direction.’

Self-effacing and scandalous to the end, Buñuel knew very well that his 1967 taboo busting film about a beautiful, faithful and bored young housewife, Séverine (Catherine Deneuve), who finds her inner fetishist in the brothels of her small town, was a turning point for him. First of all, it was the film that cemented his union with French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (they had previously worked together on the equally controversial Diary of a Chambermaid). Following the success of that film, they went on to make another four movies together, including 1972’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Arguably more important, however, was that this was the point at which Buñuel moved away from the surreal, tragic comings and goings, pilgrimages and sequestrations of his Mexican cheapies (El, Nazarin, The Young One) and his 60s French work (Viridiana, The Exterminating Angel) towards a less palatable eroticism.

Séverine’s dreams of humiliation perforate the narrative with a clear regularity, in adapting Joseph Kessel’s excellent novel Buñuel builds up a singular and unforgettable portrait of the bourgeoisie as dissolute and moribund. Forty years on, this wonderful film is still shocking, funny, clever, sexy and peculiarly familiar. Don’t take our word for it, go and see it. It’s good old fashioned arthouse porn, for heaven’s sake.

Beauty of the Day

  • 1967
  • France / Italy
  • 1h 40min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Luis Buñuel
  • Written by: Luis Buñuel, Jean-Claude Carrière, Joseph Kessel
  • Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Geneviève Page

The beautiful but bored wife of a surgeon spends her afternoons working in a brothel where she meets an odd assortment of characters. Buñuel's treatment of the bourgeoisie is typically cool and unforgiving, and his blurring of the line between fantasy and reality so successful that by the end, we wonder whether the whole…