Belle Toujours: No, Catherine Deneuve Doesn’t Cameo

Manoel de Oliveira's poised, Parisian mood piece announces itself as an homage to Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière, co-writers of Belle de Jour (also playing separately this week; see the Wire, p. 32), the indelible 1967 meditation on sublimations of desire, sadomasochism, and Catherine Deneuve in a push-up. Rather than a sequel proper, de Oliveira offers more of an extended coda to the original. Belle Toujours' narrative dance eventually reunites matinée hooker Séverine and her tormentor Husson after 38 years, but falls too often into didactic postgame analysis for its delicate mysteries to retain their luster. Husson (played again by Michel Piccoli) is now an aged man of silky affluence who runs on whiskey and nostalgia. The years have clearly brought him many rewards, though women remain "nature's greatest enigma," mythical creatures quizzically observed in the form of mannequin heads, wood nymphs, and ultimately the figure of Séverine herself, seated a few rows over at the symphony. When Husson persuades her to join him for dinner, Séverine insists that she has changed. (Indeed, she now bears an uncanny resemblance to the actress Bulle Ogier.) Referring to her sexual history as "twisted," Séverine is not interested in a jaunt down lurid lane, and is focused on finally learning whether Husson shared what he knew of her proclivities with her invalid husband. Husson takes a bemused pleasure in his guest's brittle discomfort, but one may wish for a little more provocation here. Still, reflection is as apt a tributary choice as any for the 98-year-old director.

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