The first recommendation from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film is this French drama that stars Catherine Deneuve as a housewife, with some intimacy issues, who during the afternoons fills her time by working as a prostitute.
Inter-cutting with her daily life, Severine’s life is filled with memories of her youth and sexual fantasies, and yet she is frigid, and almost uncomfortable with her husband, to whom she’s been married for a year, Pierre (Jean Sorel), so much so that they sleep in separate beds.
When one of her husband’s friends, Husson (Michel Piccoli), whom she detests, and who finds her attractive in her aloofness, reveals the location of a madame’s whorehouse in an attempt to shock her, she finds herself toying with the idea, and turned on by the concept of becoming a prostitute.
Things actually seem to be going well for her, and she slowly becomes even a little warmer to her husband, until a couple of problems start to reveal themselves… Husson discovers her, and one of her regulars, Marcel (Pierre Clementi) has a bit of violent and possessive streak.
It’s entirely possible a large portion of the whole is Severine’s fantasy, including her time working in the whorehouse, as the lines between what is real and what isn’t seem to blur not only for her but for the viewer as well.
Bunuel, working off the the novel by Joseph Kessel, which he scripted alongside Jean-Claude Carriere, has crafted a gorgeous film that lets Deneuve shine. Everyone turns in amazing performances, but watching Deneuve’s portrayal of Severine as she explores her sexuality and her own being is spectacular.
One can’t help but sympathize with Pierre, as he clearly loves his wife, and desires her. His patience with her over the year of their marriage is incredible. His fate is foreshadowed in a quick moment, and he seems undeserving of such an ending, but, perhaps, even that is a fantasy…
The whorehouse is run by Madame Anais (Genevieve Page), who looks after her girls, but also makes sure that her clients get what they want. She recognizes something in Severine, and encourages it, although even she recognizes when it’s time for her to leave.
The problems with Marcel, Severine’s dangerous john turned, threaten not only her life in the house, but also her entire world, and though she’s discovered she likes a bit of excitement, even a little roughness, in her relations, she realizes the line between reality and fantasy… but as mentioned, it may be too late, unless of course the whole thing ends up being her dream.
While paired with a title from the comedy section of the book, this film is very much a drama, and was a great watch, beautiful, occasionally troubling, and featuring a powerful performance by Deneuve.
What did you think of it?