Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Different Kind of Desperate Housewife

Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour

As an admirer of Buñuel's films and an ardent fan of Catherine Deneuve, it's something of a mystery why I hadn't seen BELLE DE JOUR until tonight. It lived up to its rep as a world cinema classic. Buñuel's surrealist touches, like his ways of showing Séverine’s fantasies and frigidity, make those moments far more cinematically powerful, and humorous at times, than conventional methods could achieve. Jingle all the way, indeed.

These days "desperate housewife" is a de rigueur tag for writers to apply to any number of public figures or for those women to assign to themselves. Anne Bancroft was dubbed one in an obit mentioning her role as Mrs. Robinson. Laura Bush confessed to being one. As I continued to watch DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES in hopes of spotting the creative genius I wasn't seeing, I grew weary of the series' bloated self-importance and the increasingly cartoonish behavior, so Deneuve's Séverine, a Gallic ancestor to the women of Wisteria Lane, provides a satisfying alternative.

While it's not fair to compare one season of the ABC soap with an established film classic, BELLE DE JOUR, with the "pure", suffocating wife, is a more potent statement about the interior lives of women than the vastly overrated television show. To be certain, Séverine doesn't have much in common with the average American woman--as much due to her being French and the film taking place in the 60s--but despite testimonials by the series' creators and cast, the ladies of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES don't either, except in the most exaggerated ways.

Of course, if the right people make even a tangential connection between DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and BELLE DE JOUR, maybe the show's astounding popularity can convince someone to put out a DVD that uses a better print. The one out there now isn't terrible by any means, but 16x9 enhancement and a little cleaning up wouldn't hurt.


  1. BELLE DE JOUR is so awesome. Miramax did a good thing by giving it a U.S. rerelease in '96 (without which we would likely have missed it entirely), but I agree that it could use a little sprucing up for future DVD editions.

    Check out

    and scroll almost all the way down for more of my thoughts on it.

  2. I wouldn't go so far as to put BELLE DE JOUR as the #1 all-time film (or in the top 10), but that's why it's your list and not mine. I haven't seen the Akerman film and some of DECALOGUE, but I'd rank your other top 10 selections relatively high too. (I really need to hash out a list like this during the summer.) I guess I should consider myself fortunate to have seen four of those projected, three of them at Roger Ebert's festival.

    One of the things that makes Deneuve a captivating actress and one of the all-time greats--aside from her stunning looks--is that she has done interesting work for nearly forty years. For starters, look at the directors with whom she's worked. She probably isn't among the great technical actresses, but she has something perhaps even more valuable for cinema: the je ne sais quoi that elevates a performer to a star.

  3. You wrote:

    > I wouldn't go so far as to put BELLE DE JOUR as the #1 all-time film (or in the top 10)...

    But then you've only seen it once. I enjoyed it quite a bit when I first saw it (largely in a Deneuve-was-so-hot-back-in-the-day sort of way) but it took many viewings to get it up to the pole position.

    And you're right about her acting- she is so effective as an object onscreen in so much of her early work that her skill as an actress could be easy to overlook if you're not watching for it. And now that she's working almost solely in character roles that skill (and her choice of projects, THE MUSKETEER excepted) has kept her viable as a performer.