Belle Toujours

Belle Toujours


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

As we get older, our passions become muted, more discreet, but do they ever lose their underlying intensity? As this story opens it's 38 years since the events of Luis Buñuel's classic Belle De Jour, but Henri Husson (still played superbly by Michel Piccoli) has not forgotten Séverine, nor has he lost his resentment of the power she once held over him. When he sees her once again at the Paris opera he begins a stubborn pursuit, determined to draw her into conversation, using the secret of his deathbed conversation with her husband as the bait in a vicious trap.

If none of this makes any sense to you, it's probably because you haven't seen Belle De Jour, in which case there's really little point in your watching this. It's sumptuously beautiful and gorgeously, crisply scored, but the plot (what little there is of it) is heavily dependent on its predecessor. This would appear to be because what director Oliveira really wants is to talk about the past and the present, about memory and immediate reality, following on from Buñuel's observations about the collision of fantasy and real life.

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If Belle De Jour was an examination of 'feminine mystique', this film is an examination of male obsession with it. Taking over from Catherine Deneuve as Séverine ("I tell you, I am not the same woman I was back then!"), Bulle Ogier gives a rich, expressive performance, yet retains that old distance and unknowability. Only by demeaning her, by forcing her to face their past, can Henri attempt to deal with her on equal terms, yet her distance does not now appear to be deliberate, so his struggles manifest clearly as cruelty. As if to balance this vice, he is permitted the virtue of honesty, a double-edged sword which makes him all too aware of his own decline.

Not a film for those with short attention spans (there are ten-minute scenes in which one can just sit back and watch people eat), this still contains a great deal of warmth and humour, with affectionate references to the surrealist tradition. The sublime performances frequently obviate the need for speech and its deliberate anticlimaxes seem to be part of a bigger joke. No matter what these characters say to one another, sooner or later their lights will go out, just as the cinema lights will fade down and the audience, exposed as voyeurs, will be left wondering who the secrets really belonged to in the first place.

Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2008
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Forty years later, two of the characters from Belle De Jour are reunited, with a vengeful Henri determined to make Séverine face up to the past.
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Director: Manoel de Oliveira

Writer: Manoel de Oliveira, Joseph Kessel

Starring: Michel Piccoli, Bulle Ogier, Ricardo Trêpa, Leonor Baldaque, Júlia Buisel, Lawrence Foster

Year: 2006

Runtime: 68 minutes

Country: Portugal, France


CFF 2008

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