West Reviews Luis Buñuel’s Belle De Jour [Criterion Blu-ray Review]

That Luis Buñuel is one crazy kooky character. With several brilliant films from the Spanish auteur already in the Criterion Collection (That Obscure Object Of Desire, The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, and my personal favorite The Exterminating Angel among them), now comes the addition of one of Buñuel’s finest works — and his first on Blu-ray! — Belle De Jour. This disturbing erotic masterpiece has been long awaited by Criterion collectors since its original laserdisc issue (spine #290) in the 90’s, and this new edition will satisfy Buñuel fans as well as the uninitiated who need an introduction to his work.

The eternally luminous Catherine Deneuve stars as Severine, a Parisian housewife who frustrates her hapless schnook of a husband Pierre (Jean Sorel) with her seemingly insurmountable intimacy issues. This changes dramatically when a suggestion planted in her brain by Pierre’s creepy pal Husson (Michel Piccoli) leads Severine to take up part-time prostitution whilst her hubby is at work. Her new job, along with Severine’s daydreams and fantasies, reveals a character with issues far more complicated than simple repression, and as her work brings her in contact with more unsavory types, Severine’s dual lives eventually collide with tragic results. I think. Hey, it could all be a dream — this is Buñuel we’re talking about, you know.

The Blu-ray transfer is impeccable — there is nary a flaw to be found in either sound or picture, nor is there a moment when the English subtitles are difficult to read. The extras include interviews with film scholar Linda Williams and feminist/activist/self-described “sexpert” Susie Bright, who offer a welcome feminine perspective on the film’s erotic shenanigans, and an interview with Jean-Claude Carriere, Buñuel’s frequent co-screenwriter in that stage of the director’s career. A vintage clip from an old French TV show features another interview with Carriere as well as Catherine Deneuve (it’s a pity they couldn’t get a more current interview with her, considering that this is one of the pivotal pictures of her career).

Three trailers are included, among them a ridiculous re-release trailer from the 90’s replete with Enigma-esque music that feels like a labored attempt to appeal to the kind of filmgoers who consider Adrian Lyne and Zalman King to be the epitome of sophisticated cinematic eroticism. (I saw Belle De Jour during this re-release, but had I seen that trailer first, I probably would have skipped it.) The biggest extra on the disc is a commentary track from film scholar Michael Wood that is insightful, if a little dry. A booklet is included with a very fine essay from critic Melissa Anderson and a 70’s-era interview with Luis Buñuel. Finally, I must mention the exquisite cover art by fashion illustrator David Downton that Criterion really should offer as poster art as they did with his earlier work on Lola Montes — it would sell like incredibly sexy hotcakes.

Belle De Jour is a remarkable film from a cinematic master then in the midst of his last great decade of filmmaking before retirement. As complex, beautiful and inscrutable as any of his finest works, it is a pure delight to have it in the Criterion Collection once again. We can only hope that there will be more Buñuel Blu-rays to follow….



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