A Dream within a Dream

July 25, 2010 at 8:18 am (Uncategorized)

It was sometime in the late 90’s that The Tribune started a column where people’s dreams were analyzed. It ranged from the completely mundane  (“Your dream about snakes represent that you fear something”) to some more complex analysis. Soon, the column became a rage and a water cooler discussion. The human kind has been obsessed with dreams and the messages contained within them. Possibly since Inception (I, of course, refer to the inception of homo sapiens and not the Nolan classic). Not surprisingly, it has also been a favorite with the filmmakers. Though there are very few films that deal with dreams as a theme or topic, dream sequences are often used as an escape from reality.

Belle de Jour tries to explore dreams as an avenue for human fantasy. Belle de Jour was initially produced in France in 1967, but has attracted a lot of attention after Martin Scorsese promoted a DVD release in 2002. Luis Bunuel, regarded by many as the best director of his era, is in charge of the reins of the camera for this movie. There have been a slew of movies dealing with dual identity, but 40 years back, this was still a relatively unexplored theme. The 60’s would always be remembered as a decade marked with sexual rebellion, so it is not a surprise that BDJ deals with a dual sexual identity.

The opening scene itself sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Severine and her husband Pierre have a minor tiff and Pierre orders Severine to be flogged. To his horror, Severine begins to enjoy the flogging and he orders the flogging to stop. Very abruptly, the movie cuts to a scene of Severine sleeping. The audience is yet to recover from the shock of realizing that this was a dream, that they realize (Pierre and Severine, who have been married less than a year, are shown to sleep on separate beds) all is not well with the couple. Pierre is shown as a rich, caring and loving husband but despite his repeated overtures, Severine maintains a distance.

Severine is disgusted, yet fascinated, when she hears that one of her friends has joined a whorehouse. As a hesitant Severine turns into a day-time prostitute (Belle de Jour), she belies all the traditional reasons women resort to prostitution. She has money, a loving husband and no clear reason to join a whorehouse. The director risks raising the ire of the common man, to whom prostitution is a trade you are forced into. But this also forces the audience to question its own ethos. BDJ portrays some really twisted clientèle, poking fun at the morals of the bourgeois satirically.

Severine tries to find reason within herself for her actions, but ultimately rationalizing that it was the friend who was responsible for forcing her into this. Through her dreams, we see a galaxy of Severine’s emotions culminating in a scene where she sees Pierre throw mud at her just after he has seen two bulls called remorse and expiation.

Catherine Denevue, as Severine, is the standout performance of the movie. Her transformation from a nervous, classy, elegant housewife to a a questioning and catechizing woman, wonderfully depicts the strange mixture of seduction and repulsion that prostitution holds for a woman in her position. The director, by the end of the movie, makes you wonder if the entire movie was Severine’s dream, an outlet for her hidden fantasies, a description of her desire to flirt with danger, a mean to escape her solitude and loneliness?

The film lacks crisp editing and can be a bit repetitive in the middle. However, for its time, this must have broken so many glass ceilings in terms of the issues it touches upon. The society was still controlled by the upper class and the masochistic and  sexual fantasies played out by Severine in her fantasies and with her clientèle, would  have required guts to depict on the silver screen. However, the movie was clearly not made for the masses and was targeted at an art cinema festival audience.

Genre: Drama

Rating: They’ve got something here

Go watch it with: Your local film critic

Go watch it for: Catherine’s acting, Fresh perspective on prostitution

Belle de Jour

Belle de Jour


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