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BELLE DE JOUR
1967 - Luis Bunuel
France / Italy
82
Opening Shot

Over the opening titles we see a long shot of a road with a horse and carriage heading towards the camera (with the sounds of jingling bells prominently heard). When the carriage passes the camera we see a young couple together, as the shots pans upward towards the trees. This mysterious and absorbing opening shot is trademark Bunuel and it becomes a metaphorical shot that is reflected in both images and sounds throughout the remainder of the film, particularly so in its puzzling final moments.

The Film

Luis Bunuel's 1967 Belle de Jour is a thought-provoking and complex work of art. Despite little sex or nudity, it manages to be one of the most erotic films of all-time. Like the work of the great Alfred Hitchcock, Bunuel's direction and camera work let the audience use their imaginations, which results in a deeply effective experience. The atmosphere is truly captivating. Through use of shadows, dark colors, and gentle lighting, Belle de Jour perfectly captures Bunuel's sense of surrealism. The dream sequences are stunning and disturbing. Not to go without mentioning is the performance of the wonderful Catherine Deneuve. Deneuve is generally considered one of the most beautiful actresses of all-time, and she is perfection here as the shy, and bored housewife who is uncomfortable with intimacy, yet curious to seek out her fantasies. Through the camera of Bunuel and the performance of Deneuve, the struggle between conscious and desire are perfectly expressed in the dreamy imagery and in the gestures and moments of the character. The ending is brilliant and quite haunting. It is also left open for interpretation as the "Fin" title card fades in on the passing horse carriage (which we saw in the opening shot) that is now empty. Is the carriage coming for them or is this representing the end of her dreams? As the carriage clears the frame and the "Fin" fades out the shot holds, as the audience is left to ponder the film's meanings. Belle de Jour is an unforgettable masterpiece in cinema, from one of it's greatest artists.

The Filmmaker

Spanish-born Luis Bunuel is one of the most original visionary artists of all-time. His appreciation of fine art (notably in surrealism) is very evident in his films as Bunuel stands as the master filmmaker of surrealism. His filmmaking career began with the collaboration of legendary surrealist artist Salvador Dali on the release of the groundbreaking 1929 short film Un chien andalou, which is remarkable as a study of surrealism. The film is only 16 minutes long, but is very often studied throughout the world by film schools and critics. Bunuel would collaborate once more with Dali in 1930's L Age D'or, which again establishes Bunuel's rebellious society themes and surrealist style that would define his filmmaking career (one that lasted nearly 50 years). While his first two films are fascinating and well examined today, I believe it is the end of his career in which Bunuel made his best films. Starting with 1964's Dairy of a Chambermaid, Bunuel went on to make his most definitive work, blending the world of fantasy and reality, and always leaving the audiences unknowing of what to expect. Themes of Bunuel films very often center around his rebellious criticism of social conventions (notably regarding religion, class, wealth, and sex). As such many of his films were considered controversial and even banned. His 1961 film Viridiana (which is one of his best films) was initially banned in Spain. Bunuel made very few films in his native Spain before or after the release of the controversial 1961 film (which is a scathing attack on organized religion). Most of Bunuel's films were made in France including those made at the end of his career. Bunuel's final film may not be his very greatest achievement, but it very well defines a filmmaking career and leaves a lasting impact as the final statement of a truly original and unique artist.

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