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Belle de Jour – The Criterion Collection #593 (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

January 18, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

“Belle de Jour” is just one of the cinema masterpiece in Luis Buñuel’s oeuvre, but it’s a magnificent film that showcased feminine sexuality in a way not seen in cinema at that moment of time.  For those who love surrealism in cinema, especially coming from Luis Buñuel, they will find “Belle de Jour” to be a wonderful experience.  For the cineaste, this film is recommended

Image courtesy of © 1967 Paris Film Production.  2012 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Belle de Jour – The Criterion Collection #593

FILM RELEASE DATE: 1967

DURATION: 100 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Color, French Monaural with English Subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection

RELEASED: January 17, 2012

Directed by Luis Bunuel

Based on the novel by Joseph Kessel

Adaptation and Dialogue by Luis Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere

Produced by Raymond Hakim, Robert Hakim

Cinematography by Sacha Vierny

Edited by Louisette Hautecoeur

Production Design by Robert Clavel

Set Decoration by Robert Clavel

Costume Design by Helene Nourry

Starring:

Catherine Deneuve as Severine Serizy/Belle de Jour

Jean Sorel as Pierre Serizy

Michel Piccoli as Henri Husson

Genevieve Page as Madame Anais

Pierre Clementi as Marcel

Francoise Fabian as Charlotte

Macha Meril as Renee

Muni as Pallas

Maria Latour as Mathilde

Catherine Deneuve’s porcelain perfection hides a cracked interior in one of the actress’s most iconic roles: Séverine, a Paris housewife who begins secretly spending her after­noon hours working in a bordello. This surreal and erotic late-sixties daydream from provocateur for the ages Luis Buñuel is an examination of desire and fetishistic pleasure (its characters’ and its viewers’), as well as a gently absurdist take on contemporary social mores and class divisions. Fantasy and reality commingle in this burst of cinematic transgression, which was one of Buñuel’s biggest hits.

Luis Buñuel, is often referred to as a filmmaker who is a master of surrealism.  A filmmaker who is known for his dark humor and one who works best when given that creative freedom.

With a several films in his magnificent oeuvre, Buñuel is known for films such as “Viridiana”, “Phantom of Liberty”, “That Obscure Object of Desire”, “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”, “The Exterminating Angel” to name a few.

But in 1967, Buñuel would direct a French film “Belle de Jour” (which translated to “daylight beauty”) starring popular French actress “Catherine Deneuve”, who had won the hearts of audiences with the Jacques Demy film “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” in 1964 and the Roman Polanski film “Repulsion” in 1965.

For this “Belle de Jour”, Buñuel (along with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere) would create a film that was very different from the 1928 novel by Joseph Kessel and for those who have worked with him and know of his work, he typically creates films that are far from the screenplay and often injects surrealism, so in this case… What is real and what is fantasy? That is for the viewer to interpret.

The film begins with Séverine Serizy (played by Catherine Deneuve) and her husband, a doctor named Pierre (played by Jean Sorel) riding a carriage and she talks to him in a cold manner.  Immediately he has his riders stop the carriage and orders them to drag her out into the middle of nowhere, ties her up and has her hanging from a tree.  He removes her bra straps.  He orders his men to flog her and immediately tells one of his men to have his way with his wife.

But it’s all a dream and although Pierre doesn’t know what the complete dream is all about, he knows that she keeps having these dreams of her in the carriage.  The truth is that Séverine is a masochist and she wants to be fulfilled sexually but is not sure how to communicate it with her clean cut and very kind husband.

While the two go on vacation, they meet with their friends, including a free spirit named Monsieur Husson (played by Michael Piccoli) who makes Séverine feel uncomfortable because he keeps looking at her. As she and her female friend go on a ride, the two start discussing prostitution and how one of the women from their tennis club is known to have a double life.

The matter of prostitution stays in her mind and for some reason, she is bothered by it and asks her husband if he has done anything with prostitutes and what the experience is like.  He tells her that his experience with them was in the past and explains a bit about it.  She is disgusted and no longer wants to hear anymore from him.

One day, while going to play some tennis, she sees Husson once again and he tries to kiss her on the neck which she refuses.  He then mentions the name of a high-class brothel and immediately, she starts having ideas of working at the brothel.

We are then given a few images through various short scenes of Séverine when she was younger.  From a bearded man trying to kiss her when she was a young girl, to not accepting communion in church and more.

As Séverine decides to go into the hostel, she meets with Madame Anais (played by Genevieve Page) and she tells the Madame that she can work only on the afternoon between 2-5 p.m. Madame Anais gives her the name “Belle de jour” (because she only works afternoons) and immediately, Séverine begins her career pleasuring wealthy men.

She eventually becomes entangled with Marcel (played by Pierre Clementi), a young gangster who is able to give her all the thrills and excitement that she has fantasized.  But when he becomes too demanding and becomes jealous of her marriage to Pierre, Séverine’s life becomes complicated to the point where she now wants to quit the brothel.

Which leads Séverine on a downward spiral…or not?  Because of the film’s ambiguities, which scenes from the film are reality and which are just fantasy?

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Belle de Jour – The Criterion Collection #593″ is presented in 1:66:1 aspect ratio, color and audio is presented in French monaural with English subtitles. It’s important to note that with the 2011 release of “Belle de Jour”, for those wanting the best picture and audio quality, you may want to opt for the Blu-ray because it is in HD.

For those who owned the old 2002 DVD release, the Criterion Collection 2011 DVD release is so much better than the original in terms of picture quality and content.  While the Blu-ray release will definitely feature sharper and vibrant colors, the DVD still looks good when compared to the old 2002 DVD release.  If anything, the picture quality looks fantastic for a film that is 45-years-old.  Colors look very good but most importantly, there is no enhancement of DNR, and for the most part, picture quality looks very good.  There is one scene that shows its age (as it did in the original 2002 Miramax DVD release) when Séverine is with Marcel and there is major nose.  But that scene is fairly short.  If anything, this is the best that “Belle de Jour” has looked on DVD.

According to the Criterion Collection, the new high-definition transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image System’s DVNR was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.

As for the monaural soundtrack, the new release was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm print. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

Audio-wise, dialogue was clear and I detected no problems or crackle. Doing tests of the old 2002 Miramax DVD release and the 2011 DVD release, there is a slight distinction of clarity in audio but for the most part, the difference is more apparent in the video.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Belle de Jour – The Criterion Collection #593″ comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring a wonderful and insightful audio commentary by Princeton professor Michael Wood, author of BFI Films Classics Book “Belle de Jour”.
  • That Obscure Source of Desire – (18:08) A 2011 interview with activist Susie Bright (author of “Big Sex, Little Death”) and UC Berkeley professor Linda Williams (author of “Screening Sex”) discuss Belle de jour and the representation of feminine sexuality, themes of masochism and more.
  • Jean-Claude Carriere - (10:22) A 2011 interview with “Belle de jour” screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere on how he and Luis Buñuel came up with the screenplay.
  • Cinema – (7:16) An excerpt from “Cinema”, which aired on Dec. 23, 1966 featuring interviews with Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Claude Carriere.
  • Trailer – The original theatrical trailer (2:41), the original U.S. trailer (1:47) and the U.S. re-release trailer (1:07).

EXTRAS:

  • 32-Page booklet – Featuring a new essay titled “Tough Love” by Melissa Anderson and “Buñuel on Belle de jour” (an exerpt from “Objects of Desire: Conversations with Luis Buñuel”. by Jose de la Colina and Tomas Perez Turrent.

Luis Buñuel’s exotic masterpiece receives the Criterion Collection treatment and what a wonderful release it turned out to be!

Before discussing the film, what made “Belle de Jour” a film that attracted my attention was the fact that Luis Buñuel directed it.  For anyone who has seen any of his wonderful films and have gravitated towards his work because of its surrealism, for me…I’m literally grinning while watching his films because he does not follow traditional filmmaking, nor does he want to compartmentalized a storyline and make it simple for the viewer.   His films are notable because he does what he wants and while many question his choices of “why?”, his answer is typically “why not?” and if one had a different viewpoint of his filmmaking, he would answer with a “if you directed the film with what you want to see…then go for it!”.

He’s a filmmaker and a creative artist, and like an artist such as Salvador Dali, you view his films and enjoy it for what it is.  There are too many critics who find Buñuel’s work so maddening because it’s not clear-cut but why should his work be banal?  That is what I love about Buñuel films and make me slightly biased towards a more positive viewpoint because his films are non-traditional and quite enjoyable.

Which leads us to “Belle de Jour”.  Sure, this is not the clearcut storyline that Joseph Kessel wrote in his 1928 novel about a woman named Séverine Sérizy who was molested at a young age and lives a double life of being a normal housewife and becoming a prostitute for a few hours in order to fulfill her sexual desires.

In the film adaptation, Buñuel does keep the theme, we are aware that Séverine Sérizy was molested and because of that, she has harbored sexual feelings of masochism that she is too afraid to ask her husband to do to her.  But while Kessel’s book is quite straightforward of one woman pursuing that lifestyle and living a life of unhappily ever after, Buñuel shows us reality and shows us fantasy and at the end, both reality and fantasy come together as one.

One must remember that in 1967, this film was rather shocking to many people.  For one, unlike today where one can psychoanalyze a person who has been molested and growing up to have some major issues, back then, it was an issue that was rarely discussed.  And also, rarely do you find a film that focuses on a protagonist who has masochistic desires.

The film begins with Séverine Sérizy being led out to a car by her husband Pierre and is tied up, her bra removed and is whipped and is kissed by another man.  A fantasy.

But then there are many other fantasies with Séverine going under the table with Monsieur Husson and while the table is shaking, her husband and friend are carrying on with a conversation. To being with a man who is interested in possibly using an insect and using it for some sexual pleasure to another man who has an unusual sexual desire by having Séverine in a coffin and even a scene where she is kissed by her madame.

And each fantasy, we see her sexual desire escalating and also introducing things that may be a bit bizarre but she she enjoys it until things become dangerous. And the way it is presented by Luis Buñuel is not clear-cut like the book but done with a great touch of surrealism with amazing efficacy.

And of course, Catherine Deneuve is absolutely wonderful in her performance.  Bringing this calm but also sexually dangerous side to her character which was quite intriguing as she has considered herself as an introverted person, so to see her playing this role, I was quite amazed the first time I watched it and if you enjoyed this film, you definitely want to watch her next collaboration with Luis Buñuel in “Tristana” (and equally entertaining is reading “The Private Diaries of Catherine Deneauve” which she wrote about her daily experience on working on that film).

What I enjoyed about this Criterion Collection is how this film has meant a lot people and also for Luis Buñuel, to see how people have interpreted his film from the insightful audio commentary by Princeton professor Michael Wood and the focus on the feminine sexuality and impact of the film as discussed by activist Susie Bright and UC Berkeley professor Linda Williams.  And also, the addition of the 2011 interview with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere and also the classic interviews with him and Catherine Deneuve made this release much more entertaining than the 2002 Miramax DVD release.

If anything, it is quite wonderful to finally see this film receiving the Criterion Collection treatment and while I am reviewing the DVD, if you have a Blu-ray player, I definitely recommend going for the HD version as it is the best version out there of this film with wonderful picture quality.  Otherwise if you don’t own a Blu-ray player, this 2011 DVD release is still very good, much clearer, sharper than the 2002 DVD release and it looks fantastic for a 45-year-old film.

Overall, “Belle de Jour” is just one of the cinema masterpiece in Luis Buñuel’s oeuvre, but it’s a magnificent film that showcased feminine sexuality in a way not seen in cinema at that moment of time.  For those who love surrealism in cinema, especially coming from Luis Buñuel, they will find “Belle de Jour” to be a wonderful experience.

For the cineaste, this film is recommended!

January Titles from the Criterion Collection: Belle de Jour, Godzilla, The Moment of Truth, Traffic, Eclipse Series 31: Three Popular Films by Jean-Pierre Gorin

October 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

BELLE DE JOUR – BD & DVD

The porcelain perfection of Catherine Deneuve (Repulsion) hides a cracked interior in the actress’s most iconic role: Séverine, a chilly Paris housewife by night, a bordello prostitute by day. This surreal and erotic late-sixties daydream from provocateur for the ages Luis Buñuel (Viridiana) is an examination of desire and fetishistic pleasure (its characters’ and its viewers’), as well as a gently absurdist take on contemporary social mores and class divisions. Fantasy and reality commingle in this burst of cinematic transgression, which was one of Buñuel’s biggest hits.

1967 • 100 minutes • Color • Monaural • In French with English subtitles • 1.66:1 aspect ratio

SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
• New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
• Audio commentary featuring Michael Wood, author of the BFI Film Classics book Belle de jour
• New video piece featuring writer and sexual-politics activist Susie Bright and film scholar Linda Williams
• New interview with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière
• Excerpt from the French television program Cinéma, featuring interviews with Carrière and actress Catherine Deneuve
• Original and American release trailers
• New and improved English subtitle translation
• PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Melissa Anderson and a 1970s interview with director Luis Buñuel

TITLE: Belle de jour (BLU-RAY EDITION)
CAT. NO: CC2100BD
UPC: 7-15515-08881-7
ISBN: 978-1-60465-504-9
SRP: $39.95
PREBOOK: 12/20/11
STREET: 1/17/12

TITLE: Belle de jour (DVD EDITION)
CAT. NO: CC2101D
UPC: 7-15515-08891-6
ISBN: 978-1-60465-505-6
SRP: $29.95
PREBOOK: 12/20/11
STREET: 1/17/12

TRAFFIC – BD Edition

Traffic examines the question of drugs as politics, business, and lifestyle. With an innovative, color-coded cinematic treatment distinguishing his interwoven stories, Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Che) embroils viewers in the lives of a newly appointed drug czar and his family, a West Coast kingpin’s wife, a key informant, and police officers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. The film, delivering a complex and nuanced take on this issue of such great international importance without sacrificing any energy or suspense, is a contemporary classic, and the winner of four Oscars, for best director, best screenplay, best editing, and best supporting actor for Benicio del Toro (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).

2000 • 147 minutes • Color • 5.1 Surround/2.0 Surround • In English and Spanish with English subtitles • 1.85:1 aspect ratio

DIRECTOR-APPROVED BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
• Restored digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Steven Soderbergh and supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer Larry Blake, with 5.1 and 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks
• Three audio commentaries, featuring Soderbergh and writer Stephen Gaghan; producers Laura Bickford, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz and consultants Tim Golden and Craig Chretien; and composer Cliff Martinez
• Twenty-five deleted scenes, with optional commentary by Soderbergh and Gaghan
• Three sets of demonstrations: one on film processing and the look of the Mexico sequences; one on film editing, with commentary by editor Stephen Mirrione; and one on dialogue editing
• Additional unused footage of various scenes, from multiple angles
• Theatrical trailers and television spots
• Gallery of trading cards depicting the U.S. Customs canine squad used to detect narcotics and illegal substances
• PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Manohla Dargis

TITLE: Traffic (BLU-RAY EDITION)
CAT. NO: CC2102BD
UPC: 7-15515-09081-0
ISBN: 978-1-60465-533-9
SRP: $39.95
PREBOOK: 12/20/11
STREET: 1/17/12

GODZILLA – BD & DVD

Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla is the roaring granddaddy of all monster movies. It’s also a remarkably humane and melancholy drama made in Japan at a time when the country was still reeling from nuclear attack and H-bomb testing. Its rampaging radioactive beast, the poignant embodiment of an entire population’s fears, became a beloved international icon of destruction, spawning more than twenty sequels and spinoffs. This first thrilling, tactile spectacle continues to be a cult phenomenon; here, we present the original, 1954 Japanese version, along with Godzilla: King of the Monsters!, the 1956 American reworking starring Raymond Burr (Rear Window).

1954 • 96 minutes • Black & White • Monaural • In Japanese with English subtitles • 1.37:1 aspect ratio

SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
• New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
• Audio commentary by David Kalat (A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series)
• New high-definition digital restoration of Godzilla: King of the Monsters!, Terry Morse’s 1956 reworking of the original, starring Raymond Burr
• Audio commentary for Godzilla: King of the Monsters! by Kalat
• New interviews with actor Akira Takarada (Hideto Ogata), Godzilla performer Haruo Nakajima, and effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai
• Interview with legendary Godzilla score composer Akira Ifukube
• Featurette detailing Godzilla’s photographic effects
• New interview with Japanese-film critic Tadao Sato
• The Unluckiest Dragon, an illustrated audio essay featuring historian Greg Pflugfelder describing the tragic fate of the fishing vessel Daigo fukuryu maru, a real-life event that inspired Godzilla
• Theatrical trailers
• New and improved English subtitle translation
• PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic J. Hoberman

TITLE: Godzilla (BLU-RAY EDITION)
CAT. NO: CC2098BD
UPC: 7-15515-08941-8
ISBN: 978-1-60465-510-0
SRP: $39.95
PREBOOK: 12/27/11
STREET: 1/24/12

TITLE: Godzilla (2-DVD EDITION)
CAT. NO: CC2099D
UPC: 7-15515-08951-7
ISBN: 978-1-60465-511-7
SRP: $29.95
PREBOOK: 12/27/11
STREET: 1/24/12

THE MOMENT OF TRUTH – BD & DVD

The Moment of Truth, from director Francesco Rosi (Salvatore Giuliano) is a visceral plunge into the life of a famous torero—played by real-life bullfighting legend Miguel Mateo, known as Miguelin. Charting his rise and fall with a single-minded focus on the bloody business at hand, the film is at once gritty and operatic, placing the viewer right in the thick of the ring’s action, as close  to death as possible. Like all of the great Italian truth seeker’s films, this is a not just an electrifying drama but also a profound and moving inquiry into a violent world—and perhaps the greatest bullfighting movie ever made.

1964 • 107 minutes • Color • Monaural • In Italian with English subtitles • 2.35:1 aspect ratio

SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
• New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
• Interview with director Francesco Rosi from 2004
• New and improved English subtitle translation
• PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Peter Matthews

TITLE: The Moment of Truth (BLU-RAY EDITION)
CAT. NO: CC2105BD
UPC: 7-15515-09231-9
ISBN: 978-1-60465-551-3
SRP: $29.95
PREBOOK: 12/27/11
STREET: 1/24/12

TITLE: The Moment of Truth (DVD EDITION)
CAT. NO: CC2106D
UPC: 7-15515-09241-8
ISBN: 978-1-60465-552-0
SRP: $19.95
PREBOOK: 12/27/11
STREET: 1/24/12

Eclipse Series 31: Three Popular Films by Jean-Pierre Gorin

Filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin, widely known for his early-seventies collaborations (including Tout va bien) with Jean-Luc Godard in the Dziga Vertov Group, established his singular voice with this trio of accomplished, fascinating, and nontraditional documentaries, made in Southern California after his relocation there. Poto and Cabengo (1978) is a compelling visit with two young San Diego twins who have invented their own language. In Routine Pleasures (1986), Gorin conjoins the story of a group of model train enthusiasts in Del Mar with a meditation on the work of critic and painter Manny Farber. And My Crasy Life (1992) is an expectation-shredding exploration of a Samoan gang in Long Beach. With these three films, Gorin excavates hidden communities that are a part of everyday American life, and shows himself to be a major chronicler of what is eccentric and beautiful in our common culture.

THREE-DVD BOX SET INCLUDES:

Poto and Cabengo
Gracie and Ginny are San Diego twins who speak unlike anyone else. Living largely cut off from the world, the two little girls have created a private form of communication that’s an amalgam of the English and German they hear at home. Jean-Pierre Gorin’s free-form, polyphonic nonfiction investigation into this phenomenon looks at the family from a variety of angles, with the director casting himself as a sociological detective of sorts. It’s a delightful and absorbing study of words and faces, mass media and personal isolation, and America’s odd margins.

1980 · 73 minutes · Color · Monaural · 1.33:1 aspect ratio

Routine Pleasures
What do a group of model-train enthusiasts and the legendary film critic and painter Manny Farber have in common? These two lines intersect in cultural inquisitor Jean-Pierre Gorin’s lovely and distinctly American film, which takes as its subject singular passions (the locomotive aficionados’ elaborately designed worlds in miniature; Farber’s teeming canvases) and expands to something richly philosophical, meditative, and surprisingly funny. Routine Pleasures is a masterful tribute to our hobbies and obsessions.

1986 · 79 minutes · Color/Black & White · Monaural · 1.33:1 aspect ratio

My Crasy Life
Jean-Pierre Gorin’s gripping and unique film about Samoan street gangs in Long Beach, California, is, like other works by the filmmaker, a probing look at a closed community with its own rules, rituals, and language. Part observational documentary, part fiction invisibly scripted and shaped by the director, My Crasy Life, which won a special jury prize at Sundance, is a resolutely unglamorous yet intensely compassionate examination of violence and dislocation.

1992 · 98 minutes · Color · Monaural · 1.33:1 aspect ratio

TITLE: Eclipse Series 31: Three Popular Films by Jean-Pierre Gorin
CAT. NO: ECL143
UPC: 7-15515-09221-0
ISBN: 978-1-60465-547-6
SRP: $44.95
PREBOOK: 12/13/11
STREET: 1/17/12

Attention Canada: BELLE  DE JOUR & THE MOMENT OF TRUTH are available in English Speaking Canada only. All other titles are available in all Canada.

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