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With: Michel Piccoli, Bulle Ogier, Ricardo Trêpa, Leonor Baldaque, Júlia Buisel
Written by: Manoel de Oliveira
Directed by: Manoel de Oliveira
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 70
Date: 09/08/2006

Belle Toujours (2007)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Severine Up

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, 98 years old as of this writing, has pretty much earned the right to make any movie he feels like making. And so he sets his sights on a sort of sequel to Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour (1967), and although it reunites two of the main characters from that masterpiece, it actually becomes more of a tribute or an epilogue.

In Belle de Jour, Severine (Catherine Deneuve) has secret, subversive passions that she can't explore with her husband (Jean Sorel). When the distasteful family friend Henri Husson (Michel Piccoli) suggests the address of a brothel, Severine decides to go to work there, but only during the day (hence her nickname, "Belle de Jour"). Later, Husson shows up at the brothel, placing Severine in a very uncomfortable position. Belle Toujours opens decades later at a classical music concert, where Husson is enjoying the music when he spots an older, but still beautiful Severine (now played by Bulle Ogier). He tries to follow her but loses her in a crowd. He discovers her whereabouts from a bartender and repeatedly tries to meet her at her hotel. When they finally converge, Oliveira shows the entire confrontation from a long shot, so as to keep their words private. The film concludes on a candlelit dinner, during which the past and the present collide mercilessly.

Running only 68 minutes, Belle Toujours is an often delicious but sometimes baffling experience. Oliveira spends a good deal of time in the bar, where Husson and a young barman (Ricardo Trepa) talk about the story of Belle de Jour. The dialogue repeats several ideas, about secrets, anonymity and confidence, even though it's not exactly clear why these are repeated or how it all ties in. Two prostitutes, a young one (Leonor Baldaque) and an old one (Julia Buisel) hang out at the bar, listening in on the conversation, as if to provide some kind of visual echo. Oliveira also pays tribute to the Surrealistic Bunuel with the sudden and dreamlike image of a rooster (also a symbol of Portugal). As for the performances, Piccoli recaptures the essence of his randy scoundrel from Bunuel's film, ordering several glasses of whisky and enjoying the pleasures of life with a secret smile, but Ogier -- who worked with Bunuel in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie -- comes across as rather sharp and unpleasant as Severine, not like the willowy Deneuve would have been (Deneuve has worked with Oliveira several times before, so it's not clear why she doesn't appear here). Overall, Belle Toujours gives the impression of a director being slightly naughty and playful, but in a thoughtful way.

DVD Details: New Yorker Video released the essential 2008 DVD, and it comes with a most welcome, 20-minute Manoel de Oliveira interview (in French). The disc also includes interviews with actors Piccoli, Ogier and Trepa, as well as a trailer, a downloadable press kit, a liner notes essay and some great on-set stills featuring a still lively Oliveira at work.

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