Sunday, June 14, 2009

Belle de Jour


I watched Belle de Jour. It was fascinating and sickening simultaneously. Perhaps most remarkably, it was not even remotely erotic. One would think that a film about such a subject would be. Instead, it had much more to do with the disturbing fantasies which a person could think up, and more importantly, the power of imagination when used in the wrong way.

I cannot remember where it was; I thought it was The Kuzari but I can't find the place - one of our sefarim states that the imagination is suspect. Or perhaps that the power of the imagination is suspect. I never understood that before. But after seeing the film, I think I understand better. The imagination, if misused, drags a person down to the most disgusting depths. It was interesting that Belle de Jour thought the domination of the man by the 'Countess' was disgusting, and yet she herself explains to Mr. Husson that she cannot help herself or resist. She knows she is 'lost' and that she shall 'pay dearly.' There is something very ironic about that.

Perhaps what is most remarkable about the film is the quiet, the silence. There is so much at work within the silence. Roger Ebert's characterizaton of Marcel as a 'prop' for Severine's imagination is correct. She does not like the man; she likes that he fulfills her fantasy.

What I found most interesting was the cat meows in the soundtrack toward the end, when she dreams of a reconciliation with her husband. That, of course, refers to the scene in which she plays the dead daughter of the Duke. There, too, the Duke's manservant interrupts and asks, 'Shall I let the cats in?' I saw the ending as representative of a kind of death, the death of Severine's desire for the sickening sexual fantasies she had formerly indulged in. However, I do not think it will last. It was only for that moment that she wished for her husband; there was no remorse or regret. Inside of her, something is broken. Perhaps the reason I find sadomasochism/ sadism/ masochism to be so incredibly repellant is due to the fact that it creates (or at least in this film, it did) a relationship where one person uses the other. There is no love; it is an I- it relationship, as the Rav wrote when he addressed the topic of sexuality ("The Redemption of Sexual Life.") Each person uses the other to fulfill his fantasy. I do not believe in the idea of consensual hurting of people. I think there is something very dark in the person when one seeks expiation by begging another to hurt them. I can only find it sad; for it to be titillating or arousing defies even my imagination.

The idea is addressed in one of my favorite books; I believe I have cited the quote before. The book is called Eleven Minutes and is by Paulho Coelho. But there, Maria is not 'lost' as Severine is; she is simply aroused by pain. Severine seems far too emotionally detached to be touched by anyone or anything; she is an ice queen. Thus her motivation is not explained and does not even seem clear to herself. Perhaps it is also because this concept is beyond my ability to grasp: I cannot see how pain, domination, insults, violence and other behavior that degrades a human being can ever be arousing. To me, it is sickening. Homosexuality and transsexuality have never sickened me; that can be done with love. To strip a person of his selfhood and fling mud on him, or tie him up or shoot him or otherwise humiliate him cannot be done with love. Thus my complete and utter disgust. What exists within a person that would make them seek to be truly hurt and humiliated in that way? It is something beyond my comprehension...


Uri said...

A fascinating review Chana.
Personally,I appreciated combination of religion,morbid eroticism ,and decay in this film.
Interstingly enough,some people consider this film a comedy. Can you imagine?! I thought Catherine Deneuve was absolutely superb in her role in that little brothel.Don't you?

Chana said...


Can't imagine anyone considering the film a comedy. Yes, Catherine Deneuve is exquisite. 'Decay' is a good word to use; thanks.