While contentedly married to a doctor, Severine cannot bring herself to commit sexually. Instead, she indulges in wild erotic fantasies, leading her, unbeknownst to her husband, to become a prostitute in the afternoons.
This is surrealist director Luis Bunuel’s most accessible movie, which is a relative argument, as it is hardly a standard romance, but it is an easier narrative to take hold of than his usual flourishes, offering up more redolent, if exotic, emotions. You also get the magnificent porcelain beauty of Catharine Deneuve instead of eyeball-slitting. There’s a lot to be said for that.
In fact, it is the key to the film’s sly blasphemy — that such a delicate beauty would harbour such carnal desires. Bunuel enjoys contrasting the vivid suggestions of Deneuve’s brothel-life with flashbacks of her first communion and irreligious dreams. And the film is hardly explicit in anything more than suggestion, and even those for all their masochism are made up of sniggeringly firstbase naughtiness, usually involving a trussed Deneuve being whipped by a man in livery.
As is the Spanish director’s want, there is lightness, a quasi-comedy, rather than degradation, to this creature’s descent into apparent sordidness. The point is that sexual deviancy is perfectly at home in everyday people with perfect marriages. Indeed, giving it freedom could be the key to perfecting marriage. When ever her handsome husband, Jean Sorel, draws her from her perverse reveries, she replies, “About you.” It is both lie and cure to their sexless harmony.
With its neatly judged performances — Genevieve Page is wonderful as the madam — and effortless style, the film takes on a paradoxical guise as the classiest of masochistic sex comedies.
Exquisitely photographed by Sacha Vierney, well cast and acted throughout, and with stunning ice-maiden Deneuve arguably in her best role ever, this witty, erotic and elegant piece is highly recommended