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November 21, 2006

{     Belle Toujours     } movie which, while worth seeing, could easily go unnoticed in the sea of pre-Christmas Hollywood seat fillers. By the way, the title is not a spelling mistake. But if you thought about Belle De Jour, the 1967 surreal masterpiece of Luis Buñuel, you are dot on. That was the story of Séverine: a young beautiful woman, married to a man she loves but cannot make herself get phyiscally comfortable with, while her sexual fantasies run wild and far. To somewhat satisfy them, she becomes a prostitute, working in a brothel in the afternoons. She is caught on the job by Henri Husson, her husband's best friend, to whom he reveals Séverine's secret. The movie ended like that: Séverine's husband, who has just been paralized by an accident, closes definitely himself in a mutism of words and feelings, shedding a last tear hearing of his wife career as a prostitute. 39 years later, that story seems not to have ended yet. Buñuel died over 20 years ago, but another European director or gigantic artistic stature took his place: Manoel De Oliveira. You may have never heard of him, unless you dive deep into European cinematography, but he is no novice. As a matter of fact, De Oliveira is just 8 years younger than Buñuel and in 2006, he is 98 years old. You read right: 98. And still directing. He was almost 60 when the original Belle De Jour was shot. Beside the anagraphical details, it's worth mentioning that De Oliveira makes that type of movies classified abroad as European, when this term means "rather obscure, with many levels of comprehension, with no beginning and no end", sometimes "plainly unwatchable, boring". However, this Portuguese director is just great: give yourself some time to get it, and you will love him (try him on Um Filme Falado for example). De Oliveira, very much like a curious spectator of that 60s classic, was dieing to know what happened to Séverine after those dramatic days, and to partially satisfy our curiosity as well, he directed the sequel to that movie, titled Belle Toujours. The plot now revolves about Henri Husson and Séverine: they are obviously not young and beautiful anymore but their performace still terribly intense. The Henri Husson of today is in fact the same actor of 1967, Michel Piccoli (in 1968 he starred as Inspector Ginko into the B-side classic Diabolik, rightfully reviewed by CD here and here) and he is gigantic. Séverine, 40 years ago interpreted by the divine Catherine Deneuve, today has the face of Bulle Ogier. So, what's the story about? De Oliveira, imagines it this way: one night Husson casually bumps into Séverine. They recognize each other but the woman prefers not to talk to the old family friend. Husson is forced to chase after her and after much effort, he manages to invite her for dinner. During this rendez vous, he discovers the woman has totally changed and is no longer going to be the victim of his provocations. Paying a tribute to Buñuel, in the first half of the movie De Oliveira tricks you to think some revelations are awaiting, but those long kept secrets are late to be unveiled. In fact, towards the end, expleted his duties of successor of the Spanish master, he films his own real themes: regret, illusion, nostalgia, lie. The movie has not been internationally distributed yet, but as usual, expect it not getting a lot of screening time: it is for sure worth seeing (as it is the first!) and it is greatly directed, so you may want to hunt it down (it is currently still touring some festivals). The only obvious and probably banal critic I could move to it would be that it would have been fantastic to have Catherine Deneuve as Séverine, to recompose the original couple of 1967. However, time has been very generous with this amazing French actress and it would have ben hard to make the spectator believe nearly 40 years passed since the first movie: she harly looks 2 decades older.

     » No official page: this movie follows the old rules
     » Degrees of Separation on IMDB: Bunuel - Deneuve - Piccoli - De Oliveira

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