Greetings again from the darkness. Nearly 50 years have passed since director Luis Bunuel brought the 1928 novel of Joseph Kessel to the big screen. It became an instant film classic. The story of erotic fantasies is told with Bunuel’s unique surrealistic style. Not the same style as his earlier films, but still, it’s the unmistakable eye of a master. The film also presents a young Catherine Deneuve at her most striking.
Ms. Deneuve’s Severine plays bored housewife to her doctor husband (Jean Sorrel). He is extremely patient and understanding of her coldness in the bedroom, and it’s clear that she loves him, despite the lack of physical attraction. Soon enough we are provided a startling glimpse of Severine’s masochistic fantasies. It’s not until later that we begin to understand what drives her imagination.
Severine deflects the advances of an older family friend (Michael Piccoli), who is so attracted by her purity, and he unknowingly leads her into a world that might satisfy her in ways that her gentleman husband hasn’t. When Severine meets Madam Anais (Genevieve Page), she begins playing out her fantasies through the afternoon shift at the brothel … all while keeping up the necessary appearances for society.
Bunuel provides us teases of the sources through flashbacks and sound effects … a carriage harness bell and the periodic meows of a cat. It’s never Bunuel’s intent to answer all questions, and he certainly makes no moral judgments towards Severine. Instead we get an exploration in the variances of love, sex and fantasy.
In the end, we aren’t absolutely certain that we can distinguish between Severine’s reality and her fantasy, but we do understand the importance of her fantasies within the structure of her day to day life. If watching Ms. Deneuve perform in this gem inspires you to see more of her work, I recommend Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. Also, it should be noted that she continues to act to this day.
watch the original trailer: