Fantasy scene: Luis Bunuel's 'Belle de Jour'

A woman's masochistic fantasies, created by men

A coach drives down a long country lane. It's an autumn afternoon in the pale sunshine. In the back of the carriage is Severine (Catherine Deneuve), a beautiful, blonde-haired woman, and her husband Pierre (Jean Sorel). They have a disagreement and he orders her to get out of the carriage. When she resists, he instructs the two carriage drivers to drag her out. They gag her, tie her to a tree and whip her. Then, as one of the coachmen begins to kiss her back, the film cuts to Severine and Pierre's bedroom. We suddenly realise that what we have been watching is Severine's fantasy.

The opening sequence of Belle de Jour is startling because it is so deadpan. Severine's masochistic dream is presented without any hint that it is a fantasy. It is shot in precisely the same way as the rest of the film in which Deneuve's upper middle-class wife finds a novel way of spending her afternoons working as a prostitute.

Bunuel considered the Joseph Kessel novel on which the movie was based as "cheap fiction" but was intrigued by the plot. He also saw an opportunity to poke fun at psychoanalytic theories about women's sexuality.

The financiers regarded the movie as a high-class exploitation picture that would titillate audiences. Bunuel's intentions were far more subversive. As his screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrire later testified, "we realised we could insert a phantasmagorical or fantastic dimension that we can't find at all in the novel and it was this dimension that interested us the most, especially Bunuel."

Film has often been about men's fantasies. The woman is the object of the (male) gaze. Academics have written scholarly articles about the voyeurism, morbidity and sadism that often goes hand in hand with making and watching movies. However, in Belle de Jour, the story was being told from Deneuve's point of view. Her erotic fantasies were what drove the narrative.

"We met many psychiatrists and psychoanalysts and a lot of prostitutes in Madrid and in Paris," Carrire recalled of the exhaustive research he and Bunuel undertook before shooting began. All the fantasies shown in the film, Carrire insisted, were based on the experiences of real women and based on their first-hand testimony.

Forty years before, Bunuel and Salvador Dali had scandalised Paris with their surrealist classics, Un Chien Andalou and L'Age d'Or. Black and white and full of surreal imagery, these were films self-consciously in the surrealist tradition. What makes Belle de Jour even more startling is that it is made as if it were rooted in everyday reality. Deneuve young, beautiful and with an icy reserve verging on impassivity was perfectly cast. Audiences who expected Belle de Jour to be a tasteful literary adaptation were all jolted out of their complacency by that very first scene of Deneuve being whipped and ravished in the woods.

Meanwhile, the influence of Belle de Jour was quickly felt on the fashion world. This was the first time that Deneuve had been dressed by Yves Saint Laurent. She was to become his muse. As The New York Times wrote, this wasn't just one of the most scandalous erotic films of its era. It also gave a "double life to luxury clothes so powerful that designers have been fantasising about it ever since".

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

    £37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

    Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

    £25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

    £16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea