out of Five
Running list: 68
A watchable and intriguing drama, with subtle moments of humour, although it's essentially a companion piece to Belle de Jour and doesn't quite stand up on its own.
What's it all about?
Directed by Manoel de Oliveira, Belle Toujours is a sequel, of sorts, to Luis Bunuel's 1967 erotic masterpiece Belle de Jour, in which Catherine Deneuve played Severine Serizy, a bourgeois, frustrated housewife who accepts a job in a brothel so as to live out her masochistic desires. In Bunuel's film, Severine is discovered at the brothel by family friend Henri Husson (Michel Piccoli), who attempts to blackmail her into sleeping with him and whispers something in her husband's ear at the climax of the film.
Belle Toujours takes place 38 years later, when Husson (Michel Piccoli, reprising his role) recognises Severine (now played by Bulle Ogier) at a concert and attempts to follow her home. Through a little detective work, he eventually discovers her address and invites her to dine with him, luring her in with a promise to reveal whatever it was that he whispered to her husband all those years ago.
Belle Toujours is more of a companion piece than a sequel, since we learn nothing new about the characters. Indeed, the film's blackest joke, of which Bunuel would surely have approved, is the way it teases us with answers to Belle de Jour's two biggest questions, namely, what did Husson whisper to Pierre and what was inside the mysterious box.
At first glance, Ogier seems like a strange choice for the role of Severine, but it quickly becomes apparent that the film wouldn't have worked with Deneuve. Piccoli, however, is excellent and it's both blackly amusing and a little disturbing to discover that the 38 years haven't dulled his penchant for sadistic mind-games.
That said, it's hard to imagine the appeal of the film to anyone who hasn't seen Belle de Jour – ideally, the two films should be screened together.
Belle Toujours is an watchable drama that's improved immeasurably by seeing Belle de Jour beforehand.