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I see you need a firm hand.

Last week, a trailer dropped for an upcoming film that is based on a strange literary phenomenon. I haven’t read the books in question, but it would seem as though the fan base of these books are people who want a little bit more excitement but don’t know how to approach it. They are enticed by the very suggestion of certain situations. As is often the case in life, I feel like there are better ways to go about such ideas…better approaches…better outlets…and of course, better pieces of art that express them.

BELLE DE JOUR is the story of Severine (Catherine Deneuve). While she is married to a well-to-do doctor named Pierre (Jean Sorel), she finds herself consumed with masochistic fantasies. These are fantasies that she never confesses through the course of the film, nor fantasies that ever fully get explored. However, perhaps inspired by these ideas, Severine finds herself looking for something more.

Specifically, when she learns that some Parisian women make money on the side by being daytime call girls, Severine is intrigued. Wasting very little time, she makes her way to the brothel run by Madame Anaïs. There she is christened “Belle de Jour”, and while apprehensive at first, eventually finds elements of the sexual adventures she seeks.  While this change in her life leads to some measure of satisfaction, it also leads to a great deal of curiosities encountered…and even a few tragedies that may otherwise have been avoided.

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The question that rattled around in my head as I watched BELLE DE JOUR is what it takes for one to be happy? On the surface, Severine seems to have it all. She has status, a loving mate, looks, clothes, and a comfortable life. Hell – look at that photo above and ask yourself what could possibly be missing in her life?

Maybe the sex? Perhaps? If Severine was able to get the sort of sex she wants at the frequency she wants, would that make her feel more complete? Perhaps. They say that sex isn’t the be-all and end-all of things but perhaps it is the be-some and end-some. Perhaps living out these ideas that she’s dreamt about for so long will spur her to enjoy the rest of what life hands her. We do see traces of that in the way she becomes slightly more physically intimate with Pierre after she plays a few hands as Belle de Jour.

So what’s the source of the happiness? Can one be happy if they are handed all of life’s luxuries and comforts but have a “dead bedroom”? Or is one far more happy if they are getting everything they want sexually without any other frill or extravagance? I have no experience being in either situation so I cannot answer my own question. However, my question leads me to a whole other question, and that is whether Severine is happier as Belle de Jour because it puts her into a situation where she is in control. Her clients are coming to her…paying her…making it completely clear that they need her to fulfill a need.

Maybe that’s what it takes to be truly happy in life, and why so many people struggle with it: it takes a great deal of control.

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While there are allusions made to Severine’s childhood, and what influence they might have had on how her libido now works, her kinks largely go unexplained. The fact that they do does a great deal in allowing us as viewers to observe her sexuality without trying to understand it. Had the film given us long moments of psychoanalytical exposition – or flat-out told us that Severine likes what she likes because of “this” – we would likely resist. Many answers, after all, just lead to more questions. When it comes to sexual tastes, answers are even harder to come by. We tend not to want something because of a specific reason. We just want what we want.

The fascinating thing is the way Severine’s desires seemingly play against type. Deneuve is always captured in the glow of the morning light, and draped in Yves St. Laurent as if it was why the man was inspired to design clothing in the first place. One would never look at her and think “I could see her having fantasies about having mud flung at her while bound to a fence post”.

Hell, would one say that about anybody they encounter?

But yet Severine fantasizes about just that. She wasn’t the first, and she won’t be the last. It plays completely against the image she gives off, the same way so many people’s do. If you’re reading this post somewhere public – look up (if you’re not, keep it in mind next time you go out). One of the people around you probably likes their sex a little dirtier than most. They probably get their motor running by being in position of control – or giving up control. Perhaps they like to watch or to be watched. there are dozens of possibilities, but you’d seldom know it to interact with them on a daily basis. Not because they are specifically keeping it secret – though they are – but just because one’s inner workings has so little to do with one’s outer demeanour.

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Besides the fact that this specific film is a blind spot for me, it feels a little shameful for me to claim the work of Luis Buñuel as one gigantic blindspot in my film literacy (it’s doubly shameful considering I was an art student). In some ways, one can see traces of Buñuel’s surrealist nature coming through in this piece of work – just traces mind you. There are no eyeballs being sliced here, and no inescapable dinners. However when one considers the heady nature of the sleigh bells on the soundtrack, or the mysterious unseen contents of one client’s lacquered box, it can seem like a surrealist gateway drug. Once you let all of this curiosity and intensity wash over you, the question then becomes whether you run away in fear or come back for more.

In a sense, films that challenge the viewer in this manner feel like that first visit Severine makes to the brothel; one can grab their bag and leave, or one can come back a few hours later and discover what other curious delights await.

Blind Spots

I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.

Here’s the round-up for July so far…

Beatrice watched E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL

Courtney Small watched L’AVVENTURA

Josh watched CLOSE-UP

Katy Rochelle watched SE7EN

Fisti watched BRIEF ENCOUNTER

Elina watched 12 ANGRY MEN

Andina watched CASTLE IN THE SKY

John Hitchcock watched THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS

Jay Cluitt watched PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

Chris watched HARD BOILED

DAN HEATON watched LES DIABOLIQUES

Brittani Burnham watched THE 400 BLOWS

Sean Kelly watched THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

Will Kouf watched THE GREAT SILENCE

the Void watched THE MALTESE FALCON