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Plot Overview

A rhythmic clippity-clop of horse hooves accompanied by the jingling of bells slowly increases in mesmerizing intensity until we spy a horse-drawn carriage with an amorous couple in the rear slowly emerge into view. Says the man, “I feel a great tenderness for you,” but when she doesn't reciprocate in kind, he demurs with, “You can be very cruel when you wish.” Her retort is, “It's not my fault. I can explain every­thing.”

We awaken to a cold reality of the courting couple now “one year married.” (“Heureux?” ¶“Oui.”) They sleep in separate beds.

Séverine Serizy (Catherine Deneuve) through friends becomes apprised that some Parisian housewives have taken to part time prosti­tution to pick up a little extra money. Although her doctor husband Pierre Serizy (Jean Sorel) provides well for her, she drifts into a new orbit (“Qu'est-ce que se passe?”) and a new career (“Ce n'est rien”) not for the sake of money (“de l'argent”) but to live out her sexual fantasies. By day she is Belle de Jour (French for day­lily) in an upscale house of prosti­tution. By night she is a dutiful house­wife with her husband none the wiser, though he does like it that she is slowly over­coming her inhibitions.

“I know I'll have to atone for everything one day,” she admits, “but I couldn't live with­out it.” Then some­body lets the cat out of the bag (“Pierre, please, don't let the cats out.”)


The opening scene with two valets d'écurie in their livery are like to upstage the amorous couple seated in the rear, and altogether do once they start rendering services not normally required. In a later scene a cabbie displays his multi-talents by showing him­self in the know about prostitution (“It's the world's oldest profession”) that has now gone under­ground from what it was before the war (“devant guerre.”) Séverine's nom d'emprunt (“Would you like to be called ‘Belle de Jour’?”) is a play on belle de nuit, beauty of the night, an expression for prosti­tute. Her surgeon husband decked her out in sartorial splendor from her buckled shoes (designed by Roger Vivier) to her dress (a little hard to get out of), to her vanishing under­garments. And her undoing was when Marcel (Pierre Clémenti) “a common crook” brought his carriage trade to her home. “Belle de Jour” accentuates occupations, so let's look at the world's oldest profession.

Séverine meets (“Venez”) the other two working girls in the establish­ment: Mathilde (Maria Latour) and Charlotte (Françoise Fabian)—“both very nice.” So we've got a blonde, a brunette, and a red­head. The madame of the house Madame Anaïs (Geneviève Page) has brown hair. The first client boasts of having had the services of a négresse in Brussels. Add to that both rich and poor working girls, and we've got a diverse repre­sen­tation. Sophis­ti­cated Séverine replaced another girl who'd been let go (“Domage”) for being “too vulgar.” Prostitution itself is becoming more respect­able, or we'd like to think so. But Marcel the common crook in being “too demanding” brought vulgarity back into the picture. Then he considered Séverine's husband “the obstacle.” But in the end Marcel needs a doctor in the worst way. Prosti­tution does not meld well with the workaday scheme of things.

1 Corinthians 7We should check the formulas given by the apostle Paul to people needing to tend their sex drive: (1 Cor. 7:2–4)

to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benev­olence: and like­wise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and like­wise also the husband hath not power of his own body but the wife.

The scriptural way is to get hitched and then the spouses respond to the physical needs of each other. They weren't doing that.

He: “Are you not feeling well?” (“Mal?”)
She: “It's nothing. I'm sleeping.” (“Ce n'est rien. Je dors.”)

Forgive me for sounding condescending, but there's so much confusion these days that I'd better point out the formula above was male-female, of a man with his wife or a woman with her husband. There is a suggestion of lesbianism in the movie—a lot of people have experimented at one time or another—but even were that the case here, Séverine would still be in a scriptural position to fulfill her obligation to her husband in what we might term a homo­sexual marriage, that is one involving at least one homo. There is in fact such a marriage in the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”–2011, a gay man marrying a woman at his family's behest. A homo­sexual marriage as such is different from a same-sex union with the marital label attached—words are so confusing these days.

The next statement by the apostle Paul on marital duty is widely ignored by the churches, and its corresponding movie scene largely dismissed by the critics. (1 Cor. 7:5) “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give your­selves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incon­tin­ency.” A Duke comes up to her at her table (before she has eaten) offering her a lot of money if she'll come and help him (“porter secours à mois”) “for a religious ceremony.” It consists of lying still in a coffin with her eyes closed as a proxy for his dead daughter while he prays: “I've brought you some lilies. I hope you've forgiven me.” She her­self had been abused as a girl, leading to guilt feelings she had to work out. At Madame Anaïs's there is similarly a maid's daughter of about eight-years-old who will be “tickled” once she completes her studies. The religious ceremony will more likely lead to deliverance from child­hood abuse than will working off her issues in a whore­house. Yet, the latter has more fleshly appeal. As her husband's friend Henri Hussan (Michel Piccoli) puts it, “One is never bored in a bar, unlike in a church with one's own soul.” Anaïs serves cham­pagne as does a bar, but the Duke's home is quiet as a church.

The big difference between the two therapies is how they end. Marcel insists on more of her time than she is willing (or able) to give (“à nuit aussi.”) The Duke's servant gives her the bum's rush out of there once the ceremony is complete (“But it's raining!”) Paul puts strict limits (“come together again”) on marital abstinence for praying, but working out one's difficulties, in the flesh can have long lasting consequences.

Production Values

Belle de Jour” (1967) was directed by Spanish-born–Mexican surrealist-film–maker Luis Buñuel (1900–1983). He co-wrote it with French actor and screen­writer Jean-Claude Carrière. It was an adaptation of the 1928 novel Belle de Jour by French author and journalist Joseph Kessel. It stars Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, and Pierre Clémenti, all of whom put in fine performances, and Catherine sparkled in her own troubled way.

The alternating of lucid imaginations with cold reality makes this a difficult movie to follow, but if you pay attention to the sound track, you'll have a better grasp of what's imaginary. Bells signal a fantasy. Stilted dialogue also signals a scene from the imagination. Depending on the version of the film an italicized font is used in the sub­titles to help the movie consumer spot Séverine's fantasies. She wears her hair up when she's playing the sophis­ti­cated doctor's wife, but she lets it down in her other life, and in the coffin she wears a garland.

Belle” uses very basic editing, wysiwyg, no subtle angles or tricky stuff. It's hard enough to follow the plot with­out a camera­man showing off.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

Belle de Jour” is not your standard fare. I liked it, but I like all kinds of movies and appreciate some variety. This isn't the most thrilling offering avail­able, and it may not make most people's favorites list, but it does show how one woman handled her troubles and how the chickens came home to roost. There's no sex performed or nudity displayed, but we keep thinking there will be. Basic­ally, a lot of people watching this movie won't know what to think. Even the director couldn't explain it.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes.

Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age.

Special effects: Average special effects.

Video Occasion: None of the Above.

Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Suspense: A few suspenseful moments