Belle toujours occurred to me unexpectedly and, as I had the will to pay my tribute to Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière, I was happy to have found a way to do so, perhaps the best, and I started working. What is it about? Taking two of the strange characters from the film Belle de Jour, and make them relive, thirty eight years later, in the strangeness of a secret which was only in the possession of the masculine character and a knowledge that had become crucial to the female character. Thus, passed this time, they meet again. She tries to avoid him by all means. But he stalks her and eventually manages to gain her attention with the intention of revealing the secret that he alone can unfold. They set a meeting, a dinner, where she expects that all will be revealed. During dinner, she, now a widow, awaits the expected revelation: what he had told her husband while he was mute and paralytic because of a gunshot wound fired by a lover of hers. The situation is tense and she ends up ... Written by
Manoel de Oliveira
Symphonie n° 8 en sol majeur - Op. 88 (mouvements 3 et 4)
(credited incorrectly as mouvements 2 et 3)
Composed by Antonín Dvorák
Performed by L'Orchestre de la Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian
Conducted by Lawrence Foster See more »
To be honest, despite Portuguese director Oliveira's considerable reputation (I was privileged to see the still-sprightly centenarian at the 2004 Venice Film Festival: by the way, this is the first among nine of his efforts I'll be watching to commemorate this rare upcoming occasion), I was skeptical about this sequel to one of Spanish surrealist master Luis Bunuel's greatest works BELLE DE JOUR (1967); once I had accepted that premise, however, I was still disappointed that the earlier film's protagonist, Catherine Deneuve, had refused to participate which her understandable reluctance to tamper with her signature role notwithstanding is even more curious given that she had already worked three times with Oliveira since 1995! Now that I've watched the film for myself which is remarkably brief, a mere 68 minutes, for this day and age! I realize that Severine (played now by Bulle Ogier, who had herself been delightful in Bunuel's THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE ) isn't really the main role here, but rather Husson (a returning and still bemused Michel Piccoli, where he seems to have gotten over his perennial feeling of coldness by becoming an alcoholic!); for the record, Piccoli had himself been a regular of Bunuel's (7 films) and, by this time, also of Oliveira's (6 films).
Anyway, though the film (unsurprisingly) omits the seamless blurring of dream and reality that made BELLE DE JOUR so fascinating, it works better than a sequel to an undisputed art-house classic 40 years after the fact has any right to or I would ever have imagined myself (given my oft-declared admiration for Bunuel's oeuvre). That said, we do find in here some definite nods to his past achievements which clearly emerge to be among the most pleasing elements in the entire film: not only the retrieval of the famously mysterious buzzing box displayed by the heroine's Japanese client in BELLE DE JOUR itself (though one can't quite fathom how Husson was even aware of it in the first place, this was certainly a nice touch); the sardonic waiters during the 'climactic' meal recall their defecting counterparts in THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962; which has, happily, just been officially announced as a 2-Disc Criterion edition for next February!); Severine's fate can ultimately be seen as a reversal of that experienced by VIRIDIANA (1961), going from lasciviousness to piety rather than the other way around; plus, of course and just as accidentally, the sheer fact that the leading lady of the original has now 'morphed' into a different other recalls the duality of the female protagonist of THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE (1977).
There is plenty of interesting character detail and amusing situations besides: Severine's constant and nervy attempts at avoiding Husson (she still hasn't forgiven him for spilling the beans on the girl's "cathartic" vice to her now-deceased husband); Piccoli's revealing conversations with a young sympathetic barman played by Oliveira's own grandson and frequent actor Ricardo Trepa where, in spite of his obviously advancing age, Husson's erudite distinction still catches the eye of two lonely prostitutes, regulars of the spot; Husson's fascination with the gold-tinted statue of a female warrior on horseback in a Parisian square; not to mention, lovely views of Paris (by day and night) which are employed throughout as transitions between scenes. Eventually, the mismatched couple do get to run into each other though, somewhat perversely, we're kept in the dark as to their actual initial exchanges; they at least make an appointment for a candle-lit dinner, which is consumed in utter silence but, then, the two gradually open up. Still, Husson's evasiveness giving a cryptic reply to Severine's query (which has continued to haunt her ever since) about the exact nature of his confession to her husband all those years ago, in order to determine the meaning behind the tears she had noticed on Pierre's cheeks soon after so infuriates the woman that she storms out in disgust!
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