Tag Archives: Geneviève Page

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: BUFFET FROID (1979)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Bertrand Blier

FEATURING: , Bernard Blier, Jean Carmet, ,

PLOT: A man in the Metro confesses his fantasies about killing strangers to a stranger; a surreal series of casual murders follows, most occurring over the course of a single long night.

Still from Buffet Froid (1979)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: This dreamlike and absurd black comedy about murder may be the most Buñuelian movie never made.1)The comparison is hardly diminished by the presence of actresses Geneviève Page (Belle de Jour) and Carole Bouquet (just off That Obscure Object of Desire).

COMMENTS: “Don’t you ever get odd ideas?”, young and unemployed Alphonse (Depardieu) asks a stranger in the Paris Metro. Director Bertrand Blier has plenty of odd ideas, most of them revolving around murder and his characters’ blasé reactions to the ultimate crime. It turns out Alphonse may, or may not, have killed the accountant he met in the subway—but no one seems to care. His wife merely throws his bloody switchblade in the dishwasher.  He goes to his new neighbor, who just happens to be a police inspector, to report the death, but the man is off duty and can’t be bothered. Another murderer shows up at his doorway and Alphonse invites him in for dinner and a glass of wine. Then, through a series of dreamlike coincidences, the inspector and the killer join Alphonse on a murder spree—if such a laid-back, stumbling affair can be called a “spree,” and if some of the mysterious killings qualify as “murder.”

For the most part, the film’s events occur over one long, endless night—with perhaps a nap or two—before a sunlit epilogue in the French countryside. Characters never show up unless they are needed as killers, victims, or witnesses—there are no extras waiting for trains in the Metro, the Paris streets are deserted, and even the skyscraper that houses Alphonse’s apartment is totally uninhabited except for him, his wife, and the newly-arrived Inspector. Alphonse, and the other characters, also complain about the cold—they never seem to be able to get warm. Perhaps they are feeling the chill of the grave?

Alphonse is the dreamer who has an inkling that he might be dreaming—he is the only one who (occasionally) wonders what’s going on, who finds it odd that no one seems to care that he might be a murderer. Everyone else accepts the ever-shifting social dynamics with the calm acceptance of someone living in a dream. The acting is utterly deadpan and droll. A man is tortured by being exposed to a string quintet. Alphonse mentions that he has nightmares that last all night where he is wanted for murder and chased by the police. Perversely, in the nightmare script that plays out, the police don’t hunt him, but abet his ambiguous crimes. Some of it is a black satire on modern alienation, but the surrealism of the scenario speaks to deeper fears—death is the only sure constant in this movie where caprice otherwise rules the night.

Buffet Froid flopped (commercially) on its release, wasn’t screened in the U.S. for seven years, and is barely distributed today. It is reportedly a cult film in France, but that doesn’t do much for the rest of us. I was able to find it on the free-streaming service Kanopy (which requires membership at a a participating public or university library—and the catalog my differ depending on your supplier).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A blackly surreal procession of amoral and/or illegal acts…  producing a cherishably Buñuelian depiction of the far-from-discreet crimes of the bourgeoisie.”–Time Out London

(This movie was nominated for review by “Dwarf Oscar,” who called it an “an absurd and deadpan comedy that gained a cult status here in France.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

References   [ + ]

1. The comparison is hardly diminished by the presence of actresses Geneviève Page (Belle de Jour) and Carole Bouquet (just off That Obscure Object of Desire).

105. BELLE DE JOUR (1967)

“By the end, the real and imaginary fuse; for me they form the same thing.”–Luis Buñuel on Belle de Jour

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Luis Buñuel

FEATURING: , Jean Sorel, , Michel Piccoli,

PLOT: Séverine is a wealthy young newlywed who proclaims she loves her husband, but refuses to sleep with him. Her erotic life consists of daydreams in which she is bound, whipped and humiliated. She decides to secretly work as a prostitute during the day, taking the stage name “Belle de Jour”; in the course of her adventures a macho young criminal becomes obsessed with Belle, and he sparks sexual passion in her, as well.

Still from Belle de Jour (1967)

BACKGROUND:

  • The movie was based on a scandalous (but moralizing) 1928 novel of the same name by Joseph Kessel.
  • Belle de Jour marked Buñuel’s return to France after his “Mexican exile.”  It was the 67-year old director’s most expensive production to date, his first film in color, and his biggest financial success.
  • The director did not get along with the star, and the feeling was mutual. Buñuel resented Deneuve because she was forced on him by the producers. For her part, the actress felt “used” by the director.  Whatever their differences, however, they made up enough to collaborate again three years later on Tristana.
  • Séverine’s courtesan name, “Belle de Jour” (literally “day beauty”) is the French name for the daylily; it is also play on “belle de nuit,” slang for a prostitute.
  • Too spicy for critics in 1967, Belle de Jour won only one major award at the time of its release: the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.  It now regularly appears on critics top 100 lists (Empire ranked it as the 56th greatest film of world cinema).
  • Martin Scorsese was behind a 1995 theatrical re-release of the film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The ecstatic look on Catherine Deneuve’s face as, tied up and dressed in virginal white, she’s insulted and spattered with shovelfuls of mud (or is it cow dung?).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although the movie weaves in and out of dreams and reality until we don’t know which is which, by Luis Buñuel’s standards Belle de Jour is a straightforward dramatic film.  Even the dream sequences are relatively rational, unthreatening, and easy to follow, making Belle the favorite “Surrealist” film of people who don’t like Surrealism.  But something about the dilemma of Séverine/Belle’s divided personality, and her uncertain denouement, sticks with you long after “Fin” appears.  The movie’s weirdness is subtle but persistent, like the scent of a woman’s perfume that lingers in the air long after she’s departed the room.


Original trailer for Belle de Jour

COMMENTS:  Cinematographer Gil Taylor famously said “I hate doing this to a beautiful woman” Continue reading 105. BELLE DE JOUR (1967)