593. Belle de jour

Right from the get-go in Luis Buñuel’s BELLE DE JOUR, the viewer is dropped into the nebulous space between reality, fantasy, love, and desire, and then kept there for the remainder of the film. The story stars Catherine Deneuve as Séverine, a well-off housewife with an active imagination, who can’t manage to reconcile her kinky fantasies with her happy but sexless marriage. At least, not until she decides to become an upscale sex worker while her husband is away. I’ll admit that I enjoyed this film far more than I was expecting. For something that came out in the 60s, Séverine is given a surprising amount of agency over her own sexual development. The narrative is interspersed with erotic dreams in surrealist fashion, until it’s unclear what is and isn’t real. And in this way, her unusual sexual interests are presented without judgment, as though the film were a considered meditation on BDSM only pretending to be an exploitation film with a moral. Deneuve’s subtle performance seals the deal with a glimpse into some, but not quite all, of her character’s psyche. She takes the film’s complexity, and turns it into a puzzle to be solved. Not only is this now my favorite Buñuel film—it’s also one of my new favorite portrayals of female sexuality. Who would’ve thought?



143. That Obscure Object Of Desire

When wealthy Mathieu sees the younger, beautiful Conchita for the first time, he immediately falls in love. Or is it obsession? And does Conchita — played by two distinct actresses — spurn his advances because she doesn’t want to soil their love, or because she’s merely using him?  This was Luis Buñuel’s final film, and there’s substance to be found in the surrealist details: a mouse suddenly caught in a trap, a fly in the protagonist’s drink, a sack inexplicably carried from scene to scene.  The entire film is erotically charged over a backdrop of terrorist violence, sometimes feeling like a dark allegory, while at other times like a lighthearted farce.  And the back-and-forth tug of the characters leads to a fantastically confusing ending that I wouldn’t dare reveal.