There is a scene where Belle, working, is introduced to a new customer. He has a lacquered box, and when he shows the contents to one of the girls, she expresses disgust and leaves. Belle goes with him into a bedroom, and viewers are left to guess what the box contained and what happened. A chance for the audience to project their own fantasies, perhaps, into the film. It makes it very easy to, well, relate to. You aren't being told what to find attractive or sexual. You can imagine it yourself. It's not all skin and low orange lights. The viewer has a chance to fantasize for themselves, or a chance to become disgusted and afraid. It's up to you. I think this is the main strength of this movie. It doesn't explain her desires or try to make you want them. As Ebert writes, "...she also has various little turn-ons that the movie wisely never explains, because they are hers alone. The mewling of cats, for example, and the sound of a certain kind of carriage bell" (The Great Movies, 61). They are her little fetishes, and it isn't important that the viewer understand them or want them at all. I love that.
This isn't a movie for everyone - I know a lot of people who are sensitive to things like this, or who cannot understand wanting something unconventional. That's ok. But what I love about this movie is that it makes it easy to understand, in some ways, Severine's actions. When you have a certain image with someone, like how her husband sees her (as very virtuous and perfect), how do you admit to something that will change their opinion? Is it easy to tell the man you married that you want to be abused? Probably not. It's easier to just get what you need from someone else. The film makes it easy to understand this situation, for us to empathize with Severine even if we have no experience with her feelings. Comparing this movie to Eyes Wide Shut, Ebert writes, "Both husbands remain clueless because what their wives desire is not about them, but about needs and compulsions so deeply engraved that they function at the instinctive level" (The Great Movies, 62). This is tough to understand, and, like the husbands in these films experience, almost impossible if you don't have desires that are this inexplicable and on occasion, shameful. I think that Belle du Jour does a fantastic job of making the act of understanding those desires, or at least, not questioning them, less scary. Less forced. More accessible. This is one woman's story, one woman's desires. It is unique...so if it doesn't work for us, or we can't understand, we can easily let it go or move on. We don't have her sexuality rubbed in our faces, we are not forced to want what she wants. It's easy to keep a distance...if that's how you want it.
Have any of you seen this movie, or have thoughts about it? Share them with me below!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay