PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Belle Toujours

Barbara Herman

Pointless and puerile, malicious and misogynistic, Belle Toujours is the opposite of an homage.

Belle Toujours

Director: Manoel de Oliveira
Cast: Michel Piccoli, Bulle Ogier, Ricardo Trepa, Leonor Baldaque, Julia Buisel
Distributor: New Yorker
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2008-06-24

Any film that touts itself as an homage to Belle de Jour better have a good justification for it existence. A meditation on desire and perversity, Luis Buñuel’s complex masterpiece about a beautiful doctor’s wife who has masochistic sexual fantasies that lead her to prostitution still seems radical today.

Drifting between straightforward narrative and the reveries of Severine (the great Catherine Deneuve), Belle de Jour managed to be playful rather than prurient. Although every character in the film was vividly rendered, Buñuel posited Severine’s struggles with her sexuality at the film’s center, while respecting and protecting the mystery at the heart of her desires.

What mysteries Belle de Jour created and preserved, the ill conceived and bafflingly bad Belle Toujours works hard to unravel. Directed by much-lauded Portuguese director Manoel Oliveira, Belle Toujours is sophomoric, eventless, and badly acted and paced. Clocking in at only 70 minutes, the film manages to seem to go on for, well, toujours.

In Belle de Jour, Henri Husson (Michel Piccoli) is the best friend of Severine’s husband. Sensing some reserves of perversity in the young and beautiful woman, he tells her about a brothel near her house, knowing somehow she will not be able to resist its lure. Sure enough, like a bee to honey, Severine’s curiosity takes her there, and she eventually becomes a prostitute during the day with the nom de hook, “Belle de Jour”.

Feeling triumphant, Husson visits her there and taunts her with the threat that he will tell her husband. A scene at the end of the film shows Husson whispering in his ear, while a tear runs down her husband’s face. Did he or didn’t he?

From this meager and ancillary moment, Belle Toujours picks up 40 years later. Husson (Piccoli again), now an old man, is at the symphony and spots an older Severine, dourly played by Bulle Ogier. (Catherine Deneuve, I like to think, had the good sense to recognize a stinker when she saw one.) He follows her around Paris in possibly the most undynamic chase scene to ever be filmed.

An IMDB summary of the film suggests that once he catches her, “he makes her face her past and with sadism takes a slow and painful revenge on her.” (This is also an apt description for his treatment of the viewer.) Eventually, she agrees to have dinner with him in exchange for the truth: Did he or didn’t he tell her husband?

It’s really hard to discuss this film, because there are really only two “significant” scenes and both involve characters talking about the events of Belle de Jour. There’s the conversation Husson has with a bartender to whom he confesses and the excruciatingly boring dinner Husson and Severine have. The former has the quality of stalling, as if Oliver knows there’s no “there” there to Belle Toujours so he’s going to pad it with commentary. The latter bears this out: Husson’s answer to the million-dollar question is, “Either I told him everything or nothing -- which is truthful and which is a lie?”

Pointless and puerile, malicious and misogynistic, Belle Toujours is the opposite of an homage. It takes the character in the original film most hostile to Severine and her poetic perversity and gives him center stage. On this stage, he gets to deny her agency, humiliate her, and reduce her desires to his lame interpretations. (In his conversation with the bartender, Husson says that he was “so sure she’d enjoy giving herself to strangers” and that he represented the conscience she never had.)

An adherent to the “Me Freud, You Jane” school of female sexuality, Oliveira even has Severine say during the dinner that she’ll probably join a convent now that she is no longer sway to her “unbalanced sexuality”/ The cardinal sin of this “homage”, though, is that, compared to the original, it is deadly dull.

I’d like to think that Belle de Jour has a rejoinder to any future attempts, including Belle Toujours’s, to explain Severine’s desire. In an amazing scene that suggests she’s fully embraced her choice, Severine lies majestically disheveled on a bed at the brothel after a tryst with a customer, with a hint of a smile on her face. “It must be so hard,” says a pitying cleaning woman to Severine to which she replies, while looking at the viewer, “What would you know about it?”


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.