Scary and insightful
Arnold Cusmariu | 03/24/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In case anyone is wondering, there is such a term in French as "belle-de-nuit" and it means "prostitute" -- more evidence of Bunuel's wicked sense of humor, except that this movie isn't funny at all. In fact, it's one of the scariest movies you'll ever see. It's also one of the most profound and instructive ones. To understand why, some familiarity with philosophical issues is helpful.
The story is simple. Pierre (Sorel), a successful physician, marries beautiful Severine (Deneuve). They clearly love each other but there is something evidently wrong in the intimacy department because they sleep in separate beds and she doesn't seem all that interested. Pierre is a nice guy about it, maybe a little whimpy, and lets it go figuring that she'll eventually come around.
We are shown some flashbacks of Severine as a young girl being molested. Pierre apparently doesn't know anything about this part of his wife's past, or if he does has no reason to think it might be significant. Deneuve outwardly looks and acts "normal." How could someone so beautiful be emotionally scarred, right? Bunuel deliberately has Deneuve act the role with icy coolness and composure to cover up an ugly truth underneath.
It doesn't take long for Severine's past to catch up with her and have serious consequences -- in real life and not just the bad dreams she's been having. Severine learns from a friend about a Parisian madam running an exclusive house of prostitution. After some hesitation and false starts, Severine goes there and begins a new "career," though only from 2-5 in the afternoon to make sure she is home in time and Pierre never finds out.
Severine has a good time with her clients. Sex is now fun for her, despite (because of?) the circumstances. Her dual existence is not affecting her relationship with her husband at all, quite the contrary. She begins to show some interest in intimacy, to Pierre's delight. He can't quite explain why but hey, if you were married to a looker like Severine, would you care? Me neither.
Of course, it's all too good to be true. One of her clients is a violent gangster who develops a crush on her. Severine is powerfully attracted to him. The guy is so badly smitten that he resolves to kill Pierre so he can have Severine all to himself. Pierre survives the attack (the gangster is killed) but suffers serious injuries, leading to blindness and paralysis. He'll be stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
As in my other reviews, I'll stop here and not reveal the ending except to say that it is truly original as well as heart breaking.
1. One of the most unnerving problems in philosophy (epistemology) is something called "the problem of other minds." I thought about working on this problem in grad school but decided it was too loony. In a nutshell, the problem is this: I know from my own experience that I have thoughts and feelings about various things, but how can I know for certain that anyone else does? For all I know, I'm the only real human being on earth and everyone else is a very convincing robot or simulacrum or figment of my imagination. Maybe you think that about me too, but I'm not worried because I have yet to have any absolutely convicing reason to think that you can think at all. Stated in less crazy terms, no matter how well we know someone, there is always some lingering doubt that we know every important fact about them. It is a "blunt fact" that we can never know anyone else as well as we know ourselves -- another person is literally another world. We all have secrets we'd rather keep, from anyone. By the time Pierre finds out Severine's, it's too late.
2. Another important problem has to do with freedom of the will. Severine was molsted as a child, which evidently has left deep scars in her character and seems to be a key reason why as an adult she embarks on a life of prostitution, even if only "part time." The question is, to what extent are we free to overcome or transcend our past influences and not allow them to guide our lives, making choices freely? There is a "tape" in everyone's head with information put there by someone else as well as information we ourselves "recorded" deliberately (or not) or in reaction to circumstances. Are we always aware of the extent to which that tape is influencing our actions and decisions? Obviously not. Even if we are, can we avoid letting that affect our lives? If not, does that mean we are not living free lives? Severine evidently is trapped in her past, unaware that her decision to sell her body for money is a form of self-abuse conditioned by being molested as a child. It seems she will be trapped in this pattern for the rest of her life.
Serious matters indeed, to which Bunuel does not offer superficial answers. But then, Bunuel is a master film maker who has thought deeply and knows how to tell a story. He is badly missed."
The British Release is superior!
Bradley Delahaye | USA | 04/20/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I own both the British 40th Anniversary Edition & the U.S. release. The British release is almost infinitely better in nearly every way. The picture quality is vastly superior, looking like they put pride in making the picture up to DVD standards. The picture quality isn't quite flawless, but it's excellent though especially for a movie filmed in 1966. There is a 30 min. documentary 'History of a Film', which isn't on the U.S. release. There is also a booklet with essays on Catherine Deneuve & Luis Bunuel. The booklet also has Luis Bunuel's filmography. The commentary from Prof. Peter W. Evans was only ok. The U.S release does offer English dubbing which isn't on the British release. The British release will be the most definitive DVD release until Criterion releases it with all those extras & more in addition to excellent picture of the British release. The only unfortunate thing is that the British release is region 2 PAL, but if you have a player that can play region 2 PAL discs, by all means get it from Amazon.co.uk. It's quite inexpensive & is an exceptional value for what it offers. This is my favorite movie. The picture quality of the U.S. release looks like it was transferred from VHS, instead of being enhanced & improved for DVD release."