Séverine Serizy (Catherine Deneuve) is a young, breathtakingly beautiful Paris housewife. She is married to a conventionally handsome young doctor named Perre (Jean Sorel) and she loves him but cannot share physical intimacy with him.
She also has masochistic daydream fantasies about being handled roughly, including elaborate floggings and bondage.
Her friend Henri (Michel Piccoli) mentions a high-class brothel run by Madame Anaïs (Geneviève Page) to Séverine, and soon she secretly tries to work there during the afternoon.
Séverine will only work up until five o’clock each day, returning to her blissfully unaware husband in the evening, hence she is given the pseudonym ‘Belle de Jour’.
As the film progresses Séverine becomes entangled with a young gangster named Marcel (Pierre Clémenti) who offers her the thrills and excitement contained in her fantasies. She is turned on by his insults, his manner, and no doubt by her mental image of her cool perfection being defiled by his crude street manners.
The situation becomes more complicated when Séverine decides to leave the brothel. Jealously, he tracks her down to her address where he threatens to tell her husband of her hidden identity but Séverine manages to convince him to leave.
Pulling out a gun, he waits outside for Perre to return home and shoots him three times before escaping and eventually getting caught by the police. Pierre survives the event but is left in a coma.
The film ends with Séverine escaping into fantasy once more. This time, however, there are no sexual undertones. Her husband is healthy again and they kiss before looking out the window on to the opening scene of the film.
There is no explicit sex in the film. The most famous scene – one those who have seen it refer to again and again – involves something we do not see and do not even understand.
A client has a small lacquered box. He opens it and shows its contents to one of the other girls, and then to Severine.
We never learn what is in the box but a soft buzzing noise comes from it.
The first girl refuses to do whatever the client has in mind. So does Severine, but the movie cuts in an enigmatic way and a later scene leaves the possibility that something happened.
Séverine Serizy/”Belle de Jour”