Belle De Jour – A Catholic Film?

Belle De Jour – A Catholic Film?

Now, by the below description, one would not think about this movie primarily as a Catholic film, but perhaps it is worth talking about it a bit further. Referred to as Bruñuel’s most accessible film, we see the story of Severine (Deneuve) exploring herself through a serious of increasingly disturbing sexual experiences, much to the eventual chagrin of her husband (Sorel). There are spoilers ahead, of course.

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.
In my research, it has been said that Bruñuel, born a Catholic, was highly critical of the Church while being unable to shake his ingrained convictions much in the same way that Ingmar Bergman was unable to shake his Protestant ones. Indeed in Bruñuel’s early films (Un Chien Andalou, and especially in L’Age D’Or) the church is criticised particularly as being an aged institution which gets in the way of one having perfectly natural and fun pre-marital sex. Belle De Jour seems, on first viewing, to be confirming the view he has espoused previously but ends up, in my view, supporting the Church’s position without perhaps the director being aware of it.

The principles and advantages of chastity are perhaps beyond the scope of this post (I try to keep them to 300 words but often fail!), however, it is clear that the director understands them. From the first, we see Severine distracted by dream sequences in which she explores her fantasies. There is an extraordinary opening scene where she is riding in a horse and carriage with haunting bells attached to the horses followed by a scene where Severine is tied to a tree and whipped by the carriage drivers. She then wakes up from this dream when her husband asks her what she was thinking about, she replies “I was thinking about us”. This is the first in a series of increasingly shocking dream sequences. Severine is aware that her thoughts are not helping her marriage and increasing the distance between her and her husband, but continues to have them throughout the film.

Severine being shown how to be a good employee

The main thrust of my argument was germinated in my mind when Severine is about to start working at the brothel. I say brothel but it more of a maison than an underground seedy club that one might more typically associate with the word. She looks down the stairs and has a flash back to being in church as a child, presumably during her first communion. She refuses the body of Christ to a much puzzled priest. Then she enters the brothel and things deteriorate from there for her. As she increases in proficiency at her work in the afternoons at the brothel, her dream sequences become increasingly more degrading. On one stage she is tied to a post and has mud flung at her by her husband and friend Piccoli (Henri Husson) while murmuring she loves her husband. This points to her deteriorating mental state, in my view on account of her employ. The multitudes of men, some in and one outside of the brothel, the degrading acts, colourful in their variety but never explicit, and the increasing distance that indulging in these fantasies puts between her and her husband puts Severine in a state of mental anguish.

The last half an hour of the film sees Severine meet her final lover, Marcel (Pierre Clémenti), whose casual encounter develops into an obsession on both sides. Severine’s husband confronts her while they are on a beach holiday. She keeps asking to go back to Paris and her husband begins to suspect that something is keeping her there. Though he does not make the obvious leap in logic until it is too late for him. The film culminates in the conclusion of Marcel’s obsession. Severine is confronted by Piccoli in the brothel and decides to quit forever, without telling Marcel. Marcel, an intuitive cocaine merchant and career criminal, has her followed home. He makes it into her apartment and threatens to wait for Severine’s husband and tell all. When Severine finally convinces him to leave, he picks up a picture of Severine’s husband and pronounces “voila l’obstacle”. He then goes down the stairs, shoots the husband, crippling him for life, and is subsequently killed himself by a Police officer who gives chase.

Severine looking after her husband

Why is this a Catholic tale? For me, on my second viewing of the film, Belle de Jour seems to warn against indulging one’s fantasies. It seems to showcase, at times dramatically, the possible outcomes of living an illicit life or by not investing the energy of sexual fantasies into one’s marriage. Indeed it seems to make the case for chastity, both in terms of self indulgence and taking multiple partners. Belle de Jour is stating in the clearest reading that indulging your fantasies will lead to the death of your marriage. While this is a comedic film, I don’t think even viewers without their red Catholic hat on can conclude that Belle did not come out better for her indulgences in the end. While Bruñuel seems to be criticising the Catholic church, he ends up quite supporting one of its core tenets, the call to be chaste, both inside and outside the marriage. The call to put the core of one’s sexual life in the other, in the proper context, not based in the self, as Severine’s is. The perilous outcomes are self evident from this film.

 

Brasserie SenT – Heaven Sent Dinner, Amsterdam

Brasserie SenT – Heaven Sent Dinner, Amsterdam

Celia had talked about this restaurant for some time before my arriving in Amsterdam, this is a restaurant she had frequented on many occasions and indeed one which she brings friends and relations to when they visit her in Amsterdam. SenT is short for the names of the restaurant’s founders, Steef and Thijs. See below my review of our exquisite dish, the glorious Chateaubriand.

This glorious dish was served with béarnaise sauce, chimichurri and french fries. Chateaubriand is a dish that traditionally consists of a large centre cut fillet of tenderloin grilled between two lesser pieces of meat that are discarded after cooking. SenT’s secret involves adding some olive wood to the charcoal while cooking the beef, which creates a unique flavour, which they claim one can normally only find on the beaches of Andalusia. As you can see from the below photograph I was rather excited to sample this much vaunted dish.

Notice the plume of steam which Celia’s excellent camera has captured. The dish was a triumph. There are few dishes which move me to tears, this is one of them. Honestly, this was one of the best beef dishes I have ever eaten. The meat was so tender, beautifully cooked with a lovely dark rose centre. The flavour – almost indescribable. Deep, rich, smokey, with the added richness of the wood with the charcoal – an exercise in divinity. The béarnaise sauce (a sauce of egg yolks, shallots, tarragon, butter, vinegar, and sometimes white wine and chopped chervil) was my favourite, it added a lightness to the dish overall and helped the dark smokey flavour of the meat sing. The chimichurri (a piquant sauce or marinade traditionally used on grilled meat, typically containing parsley, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, and flakes of chilli pepper) was a close second, adding a depth and spice to the pristine beef.

Overall this was an unmitigated triumph. I must thank my sister for bringing me to this hallowed eatery and will request it first thing on my return to Amsterdam.

 

If Thou Must Love Me – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

If Thou Must Love Me – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Born in 1806 at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a celebrated English poet of the Romantic Movement. This Sonnet is number 14 in a volume of 44 from Sonnets from the Portuguese, first published in 1850. 

Petrarchan or Italian sonnet composed of an octave (two groups of four lines), rhyming ABBAABBA, and a sestet (two groups of three lines), rhyming CDCDCD. Poemanalysis

See the poem below and my short reflection.

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say,
“I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”—
For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
Be changed, or change for thee—and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry:
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.

Here Browning is asking the impossible (or is she) – to be loved for love’s sake. She is asking to not be loved for physical or intellectual attributes, which seems to be more and more difficult in the modern world, with its insistence on dating applications which assess one’s attributes. With its emphasis on eternal love, one is compelled to think about loving their significant other in heaven after death, which is devotion indeed. Browning is saying that she would rather not be loved, than to lose love later in life.  A very lovely poem indeed.

Five Favourites – January 2022

Five Favourites – January 2022

Welcome to the January edition of Five Favourites. See below some excellent covers which have moved me rather this month.

Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (2021)

I saw Little Simz be awarded best female act at the Mobo awards in December and have enjoyed this album repeatedly since. The cover is excellent to me, pops of colour, well crafted wooden chair and excellent hair, which is itself a form of art. Great cover and album.

Femi Kuti – Femi Kuti (1995)

This album from Fela’s eldest son is extraordinary. I love the cover in the first instance, the outline of the continent of Africa singed into a burlap fabric with the artist in the middle creates quite an arresting effect. His resemblance to Fela is also quite arresting. An overall great cover.

Paul Simon – the Rhythm of the Saints (1990)

The Rhythm of the Saints, Simon’s first collection of new material in four years, extends his reach not only further into the riches of world-beat music but further into the realm of the spiritual. Rolling Stone

Perhaps there will be more on this album later in the month… However I wanted to highlight this. Simon ended up traveling to Brazil four times between 1988-89, discovering street sounds that would shape The Rhythm of the Saints – this indeed has featured on this cover with two Brazilians running. I admit to not being able to find out much on the origin of the cover but it is still excellent and catches the essence of the album.

Tony Allen – Progress (1979)

Tony Allen is one of Nigeria’s foremost drummers, having played on top 5 favourite album, Live! with Fela Kuti and Ginger Baker. He took over the Afrika 70 and made this excellent album which bears repeat listening. The cover is close to Fela’s own covers, showing clearly the struggles of the masses to climb the ladder. An expressive cover which merits a spot here.

Seun Kuti – Black Times (2018)

The final Fela of this post will be Kuti Snr.’s youngest son, who took over Fela’s band the Egypt 80 when he was just 14! This 2018 cover is arresting, featuring a fat cigar and Jean Paul Goude esque sectioning of the facial features. Overall a strong cover which takes the listener in.

I hope you have enjoyed this edition of five favourites!

 

 

Hen and Chickens – Best Curry Birmingham?

Hen and Chickens – Best Curry Birmingham?

I have long admired the Hen and Chickens and indeed eaten here on a number of occasions. In fact when I lived at the Miniature Apartment in the centre, I ordered this as a take away. The only reason I have not yet blogged about this wonderful venue is that I was convinced I had done so already! See below the wonderful meal I enjoyed at the Hen and Chickens recently.

Can you believe some people have never tasted paneer? Charlotte was in that number. What an excellent dish to begin one’s paneer journey with. Paneer, also known as ponir or Indian cottage cheese, is a fresh acid-set cheese common in the Indian subcontinent made from cow or buffalo milk. This particular paneer was beautifully soft, moist and flavourful. It was served with some light yoghurt based sauce as well as sweet chilli, which I liked less.

Charlotte opted for the evergreen butter chicken. This is a chicken curry dish with spiced tomato, butter and cream sauce, originating from the North of India. This was my first taste of curry. The first curry I remember tasting was at the Royal Bengal in Keswick, or thereabouts. Near the wonderful Puzzling Place, which I hope to go back to one day. It was so hot I needed two quarts of water, which did not help as I realise this does not neutralise the capsaicin in the pepper, which makes it hot. Or rather, this chemical makes our brains register the pepper as being hot by activating the TRPV1 protein. Anyway, back to the essential, the butter chicken was excellent, deeply flavourful and rich, creamy and buttery, as it should be.

I enjoyed a fabulous lamb dish called Saag. This dish originates in Pakistan and its main flavours are spinach, green chilies and cilantro. This was, as expected, quite marvellous. The big chunks of lamb were suffused with a depth of flavour, the sauce added a sweetness and the cilantro ran through the dish quite wonderfully, allowing me to separate the flavours. The cheese Naan was outrageously delicious, light, moist and a little under cheesed, as expected. Excellent really.

The Hen and Chickens is an excellent curry house which is likely one of the best in Birmingham, along with the Royal Watan Kashmiri, another diamond venue I have yet to review. Enjoy the Hen and Chickens!