Friday, April 13, 2007

John Lichfield previews Manoel de Oliveira's "Belle Toujours".

One of the great classics of erotic cinema for the thinking man - and woman - is revisited in a French-Portuguese movie released in France this week.

Belle Toujours, directed by Manoel de Oliveira, has two of the same principal characters as the Luis Bunuel movie, Belle de Jour, made in 1967. It is not a re-make, but an exploration of the memories, fantasies, frustrations and regrets of the same characters, 40 years later. (...)

In Belle de Jour, which was based on a novel by Joseph Kessel, Séverine is a young, beautiful and wealthy doctor's wife who becomes a prostitute during the day to exorcise her sexual fantasies. In the new movie, she is widowed and about the enter a convent. She agrees to a final meeting over dinner with Husson - a friend of her husband who had helped, and exploited her, in her secret life 40 years earlier. Belle Toujours has had enthusiastic reviews in the French press. The critic for Le Monde described it as a "pitiless examination" of "human perversity". (...)

In the new movie, which is expected to appear in Britain in the autumn, Husson spots Séverine again after many years, at a concert in Paris. He tries to arrange a meeting with her but she eludes him.

Finally, just before she enters a convent, she agrees to meet Husson to discuss what happened four decades before. Most of all, she wants him to answer a question which is still torturing her: did her husband know about her clandestine activities?

Sequels to movies are commonplace, but sequels whose action takes place four decades later are almost unknown.

Le Monde described the new movie as a tribute to Bunuel. It said that the Portuguese director, Manoel de Oliveira, had the same "taste for frustrated love and unsolved enigmas, for the secrets of virgin and profaned bodies".

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