“You like being humiliated.”
A frigid housewife (Catherine Deneuve) unable to make love with her caring husband (Jean Sorel) is intrigued to hear from an acquaintance (Michel Piccoli) that houses of prostitution still exist in Paris, and she secretly begins working for a madam (Genevieve Page) in the afternoons, participating in numerous odd fantasies — but when an edgy client (Pierre Clementi) falls for Deneuve and she’s equally attracted to him, she puts her private existence in danger.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Catherine Deneuve Films
- French Films
- Luis Bunuel Films
- Marital Problems
- Mistaken or Hidden Identities
- Prostitutes and Gigolos
- Sexual Repression
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “popular, controversial” film by Luis Bunuel is either — “depending on your viewpoint” — an “erotic or sexually reprehensible film.” He describes Deneuve’s character as feeling “no guilt for participating in sex” when she’s “at the brothel each afternoon”, becoming “part of the male clients’ weird fantasies” — and “it’s interesting that as she becomes more liberated through sex (breaking free of bourgeois shackles), she begins to reject the depraved, masochistic sex that characterized her early desires”, which is “a form of self-hatred” reflecting “her shame at having been molested as a child.” He continues his analysis by noting that “as her fantasies become more normal, at least as far as her role in them is concerned, [Deneuve] becomes ready to enter a normal sexual relationship with her husband” — but “he must be liberated as well, because guilt over his repressed sexual desires toward Deneuve cripple him, figuratively — and literally — speaking.”
Given that “in time we can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality,” Peary notes it’s possible that “the entire film, excluding the opening carriage ride and the final moment, might even be imagined by Deneuve,” which makes sense (though I’m not sure why he would exclude the “opening carriage ride” given its distressingly surreal outcome). Peary’s take on this enigmatic story — based on a 1928 novel by Joseph Kessel — makes just as much as sense as others that have been floated; Bunuel himself stated, “I myself cannot tell you what is real and what’s imaginary in the film. For me they form the same thing.” While it’s not a personal favorite, I admire the narrative risks taken, and believe all film fanatics should view this film at least once.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Catherine Deneuve as Severine
- Sacha Vierny’s fine cinematography
Yes, as an enigmatic classic by a master director.
- Genuine Classic
- Important Director
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)