Belle de jour | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Though it may not reach the level of sublimity of his three last features, Luis Bunuel's long unavailable 1967 masterpiece, rereleased with the help of Martin Scorsese, remains a seminal work and incidentally serves to clarify the great director's relationship with Hitchcock. Like Hitchcock, Bunuel was a prude with a strong religious background and a highly developed sense of the kinky and the transgressive, and what he does here with Catherine Deneuve, whom he used again memorably in Tristana, parallels Hitchcock's encounters with Tippi Hedren, another cool blond, in The Birds and Marnie. Adapting an erotic novel by Joseph Kessel with Jean-Claude Carriere, Bunuel recounts the story of a frigid upper-class housewife (Deneuve), devoted to her husband (Jean Sorel), who secretly works at a high-class brothel every weekday afternoon in order to satisfy her masochistic impulses. Placing the heroine's fantasies, dreams, and recollections on the same plane as her everyday adventures, Bunuel comes closer to the French New Wave than he did before or after, and much of his secondary cast reinforces this association (including Michel Piccoli, Macha Meril, and, most memorably, Pierre Clementi as a dandyish gangster), but there are also many explicit visual and aural echoes of his surrealist beginnings (Un chien andalou and L'age d'or). Haunting, amusing, provocative, teasing, and elegant in its puzzlelike ambiguities, this is essential viewing. With Genevieve Page, Francisco Rabal, Georges Marchal, and Francoise Fabian (a couple of years before Eric Rohmer "discovered" her in Ma nuit chez Maud). Fine Arts.

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