Judge Brett Cullum revisits two of his favorite fictional characters, a high priced call girl and the man who made her one. Ah memories!
A trip back to an iconic set of characters.
Thirty-nine years later and someone decides to make a sequel to the classic cult film from Luis Bunuel Belle De Jour? It seems a strange proposition, made even stranger considering the film was made without Catherine Deneuve returning to the role she made famous. Instead of Bunuel's kink and surrealistic sadism, we are offered a meditation on how people change over the years. Belle Toujours is an homage to the original and a nice grace note to the story, if not the sequel film lovers wanted four decades ago. The title is a great play on words, because it literally means "still or always beautiful." It has that "two" in there as well to let us know it's a continuation.
Henri Husson (Michel Piccoli, who was in the original) spots Severine (played by a blonde Bulle Ogier, standing in for Deneuve) at an elegant opera house, and his curiosity is sparked. How has her life moved on after the torturous events of four decades ago when she was secretly a prostitute at a high class brothel? Henri was the man who planted the seeds for Severine's downfall years earlier. He told her about the brothel, and sparked her imagination with his flirting. He may or may not have told her husband what she was doing, after he was paralyzed by her gangster customer. He longs to know whatever became of the blind and crippled spouse. Henri must also see if Severine still has any attraction to him and begins to pursue her. Severine does everything she can to avoid him, but the inevitable does indeed happen. Over a candle light dinner, the two old would-be lovers recall their "wickedness" and choose whether or not to reveal their darkest secrets. What he discovers is that this woman has a completely different take on life, and his head games are not nearly as effective as they once were.
Picooli's Husson is the star here, mainly because he remains the same man who tortured Severine all those years back. The actor plays him as a smooth, aging, wealthy man fueled by a stiff drink and endless curiosity of what makes women work. All these years later and he still hasn't learned much. He longs for the nostalgia of revisiting what he considers his "glory days," and yet it seems Severine has completely let go and moved on. The movie's main point seems to be that women adapt and adjust better than their male counterparts, due in no small part to control of their egos. Bulle Ogier is graceful and remote enough to play Severine, but I found myself missing the patent, ice queen, iconic presence of Catherine Deneuve. Her participation could have truly elevated this project.
Another reason the film belongs to Husson is that upfront he's the only character we know. Severine remains hidden for most of the running time, and Husson explains her story to a young bartender. What is fascinating is that we get to hear the man's perspective of Belle De Jour, and it is tainted with typical male bravado. Somehow the tale is all about him which is both laughable and sad, and it becomes the central core of the movie.
New Yorker Video offers viewers a well-appointed package for Belle Toujours. The extras stand out as we are provided recent interviews with director Manoel de Oliveira, lead actress Bulle Ogier, lead actor Michel Piccolo, and supporting actor Ricardo Trepa. These clips explain the film quite well, and provide the right amount of back story for anyone wondering how the project came about. There is an essay in the insert booklet which also further explores the film as well as a PDF file with press kit on the DVD. The transfer is good looking, supple, and well executed. The only critiques I have are that the black levels are sometimes off and the entire film has a soft focus, both of which seem to be stylistic choices by the director. Sound is simple stereo, and relays the all important dialogue. There are many sequences that showcase Paris coupled with an excellent symphonic score and these come off well.
What frustrates me about Belle Toujours is that it offers hardly any closure to the mysterious moments which ended the Bunuel flick all those years ago. Husson's best moment in Belle De Jour was when his character went in to a room with Severine's husband and whispered in his ear. We are never truly given a concrete answer as to what transpired, why he did what he did, nor even exactly what he said. Any fan of the original wonders what Husson revealed to Severine's husband, something that is promised on the back of the DVD packaging. The film never delivers a satisfactory answer, just a ton of teasing and hints. Perhaps that is the only way to stay faithful to the original work. This is a quiet movie, with having hardly any dialogue over long stretches. It is about the awkward silence that quite often greets you when the past comes crashing back in to your life. That is the best Belle Toujours has to offer.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Yorker Films
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