Catherine Deneuve’s film roles are typically characterised by ‘a temperament at once passionate and inviolable’ (GEOFFREY HARTMAN). To what extent, and in what ways, is this manifested in any ONE OR MORE of the films you have studied on the module?
Catherine Deneuve is famed for not only her acting credentials but her beauty too, having once been the flawless face of Chanel. She has appeared in various films that exploit her sexuality and desirability, but one could claim that her characters are never one-dimensional. Hartman’s assertion that Catherine Deneuve’s characters display both passion and inviolability supports a conception of her roles as multifaceted yet sometimes contradictory; Deneuve has certainly shown passion in her films (as the strong businesswoman of Potiche) and her inviolability cannot be denied (as the inaccessible ice maiden of Repulsion who degenerates into an ‘angel-faced schizophrenic murderess’ to protect herself from men’s advances), but does she demonstrate these two qualities simultaneously through any of her characters? This essay will discuss the validity of Hartman’s argument referring to Deneuve’s performance in Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour, with some supporting references to other films in which Deneuve starred.
To begin, let us consider the ways in which Hartman’s view is positively manifested in Belle de Jour. This film sets Deneuve’s beauty in a ‘narrative that draws out its (her beauty’s) darker implications’ as she plays Séverine, a young housewife who is remarkably disinterested in maintaining a physical relationship with her husband. In terms of gratuitous marital sex, she is absolutely inviolable. However, beneath her ‘corpse-likeness’ and frigidity , she harbours secret masochistic fantasies and becomes a prostitute to satisfy her longing to be dominated by men. This behaviour shows real passion, as Séverine is stepping outside the acceptable comportment of a bourgeois woman for reasons of personal desire. Hartman’s claim is illustrated through mediums including mise-en-scène, costume and the personal performance of Deneuve, each of which will be treated in reference to specific key scenes or moments.
Firstly, the mise-en-scène serves as a visual backdrop that often reflects Deneuve’s role. Her costume, famously designed by Yves Saint Laurent , plays a strong part in guiding the audience’s perception of Séverine. She wears very neat, formal clothes for the majority of the film, thereby demonstrating her bourgeois status, and is frequently dressed in white to symbolise her purity and mirror her frosty exterior. She is ‘the cold beauty, the ice maiden, the snow queen’ and one could argue that ‘Deneuve seems the perfect incarnation of the woman’ (emphasis added). Nevertheless, she is not entirely as refined, rigid and poised as Austin argues , as her costume hides her true colours. The impression created is that Séverine chooses to dress in white (right down to her provocative underwear) to...