Belle Du Jour (1967)

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Food: I got the opportunity to try the famed Buddakan restaurant with all of my coworkers. We tried a series of starters, including the crispy smoked salmon dumpling, pork potstickers, and crispy cauliflower lollipops (or as I like to say “cauli lollies”). We also split the wild mushroom chow fun, the minced pork lo mein, and the vegetable fried rice. For my main dish, I ordered the Kung Pao Monkfish served with a chili-szechuan sauce and peanuts. It was deliciously crispy and flavorful – reminding me a bit of orange chicken. To drink, I split a bottle of the sparkling harushika tokimeki sake which was light and refreshing. To follow, I got a whiskey cocktail that was similar to an old fashioned. In the end we all split a variety of desserts, including the double chocolate chip monkey bread and the crying chocolate.

Film: Directed by Luis Buñuel, this 1967 erotic classic features a beautiful young housewife named Séverine Serizy, played masterfully by Catherine Deneuve, who finds herself engulfed in masochistic fantasies that she cannot reconcile with her seemingly happy marriage to a man named Pierre (Jean Sorel). When she learns of a secretive high-class brothel run by a woman named Madame Anais (Geneviève Page), she begins to work there while her husband is at work, under the name Belle De Jour – a lily that only blooms during the day.

What Buñuel understands about erotica is that it exists primarily in the imagination. Séverine is on a venture of self-discovery. She is walking into this room to have sex with strangers, not to engage in the act itself, but because of the exhilaration of simply the fact that she is doing it, taking her sexuality into her own hands. Her husband values her innocence, frequently remarking on her purity. This only serves to limit her ability to explore her fantasies with him.  Cleverly, Buñuel cuts between her mysterious smile and her true thoughts – where we begin to understand that her fetishes involve being handled roughly, among other things that are left unexplained. We see her in imagined situations like being tied up while men throw mud at her, ruining her white gown.

When she finally unearths this first-rate brothel, she wears an iconic all black outfit with sunglasses and approaches hesitantly. Madame Anais offers her a job immediately, which initially scares her off, but then a day later, returns – her curiosity piqued. We never see any explicit sex, but instead, most of the situations are driven by insinuations. Buñuel relies heavily on symbolism, reaffirming the mystery and personal nature of each and every persons sex life.

All is well until one day, the brothel receives some unlikely clients – two neighborhood thugs. One of them with struts in with a black leather cape and goes by the name Marcel (Pierre Clementi). Séverine immediately takes to him, and they begin an affair. Despite being highly attracted to his crude and insulting manner, she does not care about him in a romantic way. He fulfills her unique erotic desires and she is, at last, able to carry out her ideations, using him as an accessory.

“Belle de Jour” is a film that explores the complications of human nature through Séverine, a character who we understand to be virtuous, despite behaving in ways that are not. She feels guilt for how she has betrayed her husband and used another man for her own needs, struggling and, at one point, admitting, “I can’t help myself.” The whole film is stylistically portrayed, with memorable costuming, and decor. It is a masterpiece in surrealist filmmaking and a thoughtful look at female sexuality.

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