March 14, 2011

Justify My Netflix: Belle de Jour

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Belle de Jour

Today's movie: Belle de Jour, 1967 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because one of the many areas of film history that I'm behind on these days is the French New Wave of the 1950s and '60s, which means I'll always take an excuse to school myself a little more, which is why a random conversation about it one day led to me adding this 1967 Luis Brunel classic to my Netflix queue, especially enticing since going through a major restoration in 2002, spearheaded by no less than Martin Scorsese.

The reality: Tres magnificent! Although you may be wondering at first what a revered master of 1920s Spanish surrealism, and former drinking buddy of Salvador Dali, was doing making a risque yet mainstream French sex comedy in the 1960s; after you watch it, though, you realize that it actually contains just as much surrealism and transgressive thought as anything else in his long and storied career, and that we all benefited from the constantly globetrotting Brunel just happening to be living in Paris right when the New Wave in cinema there exploded, giving him a chance to pump out popular yet thought-provoking work just like this, a movie which happened to also first establish Catherine Deneuve's longstanding reputation as a sexy European ingenue. And all of that is because of the film's timely central theme -- cold yet adventurous housewife is being constantly goaded by her '60s contemporaries to "get hip with the times," to the point where she starts moonlighting as a high-end, afternoon-only prostitute, a movie that could literally be remade tomorrow only with Craigslist instead of secret urban high-rise brothels, and lose not even one bit of its naughty relevancy.

In that respect, then, the film is a revelation, a tour-de-force by Deneuve as a woman equally attracted to and repelled by the thought of random sex with ugly strangers, laying the groundwork for everything from softcore trailblazer Emmanuelle to radical feminist pioneer Catherine Breillat, and like I said with its structural complexity made even richer by the out-and-out surrealist fantasies that Deneuve is often having during her down-times, a big part of what leads her to actual sexual adventure in the first place. Quite tame in terms of actual explicitness (that half-boob on the poster is the most graphic thing in the whole movie), it's nonetheless strongly subversive simply from the questions it asks and the issues it raises, a meditation on desire versus conformity that's still being hotly debated to this day. Both wittier and more shocking than I was expecting, it comes highly recommended today.

Strangest piece of trivia: Even Brunel himself admitted in interviews afterwards that he wasn't quite sure what the film's notoriously confusing ending was exactly supposed to mean.

Worth your time? Yes

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:29 AM, March 14, 2011. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |