Review: Belle Toujours

Manoel de Oliveira is someone Luis Buñuel actively rebelled against: an aesthete.

Belle Toujours
Photo: New Yorker Films

Manoel de Oliveira is someone Luis Buñuel actively rebelled against: an aesthete. Belle Toujours, a sequel of sorts to Belle de Jour, plays out as a bad bar joke. Literally. What do you get when a man walks into a bar and deconstructs a Buñuel picture for half an hour? The answer is not a whole lot. The genius of Buñuel’s 39-year-old masterpiece—like that of David Lynch’s modern renovation, Mulholland Drive—is how the walls separating its conscious and unconscious dimensions are completely dissolved. De Oliveira strips the original film of its power by cementing its spongy mysteries with banal annotation. Michel Piccoli, one of the brightest stars in Buñuel’s complex milky way of philosophical wonders, reprises the role of Henri Husson, who spots Séverine Serizy (Bulle Ogier) at a symphony (Lynch’s Bondar might say, “Si hay banda!”), loses her in a crowd, and spends much of the film trying to catch her—perhaps to taunt her with broken glass and play with her as he once did under a table. By casting Ogier, one of the middle-class dopes from The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, in the role originated by Catherine Deneuve, and keeping her character out of Husson’s hair for so long, de Olivera rekindles a familiar Buñuelian theme: woman as obscure object of desire. But Husson, after deconstructing Belle de Jour and Buñuel’s directorial mantra for a barkeep, will eventually catch her, at which point Séverine reveals, during a suspenseful candlelit dinner, that the past is long gone and her sexuality is no longer “unbalanced.” Buñuel, the most acerbic humanist the movies have ever seen, would have been disappointed to see Belle de Jour stripped of its stunning ambiguities and Séverine judging herself so: By assuming that the 1967 film’s supposed perversities in fact took place in the real world, de Oliviera doesn’t have to pose moral arguments in relation to what Raymond Durgnat described as the “inner world of desires and feelings” of its characters. Not that de Oliviera’s film should behave like Buñuel’s, but why does growing old have to mean becoming boring?

Score: 
 Cast: Michel Piccoli, Bulle Ogier, Ricardo Trepa, Leonor Baldaque, Júlia Buisel  Director: Manoel de Oliveira  Screenwriter: Manoel de Oliveira  Distributor: New Yorker Films  Running Time: 68 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2006  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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