For more than half a century, the Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel stood in splendid isolation from his peers. Social subversive, incessant joker and deep thinker, he took it upon himself to lambaste some of the world's most cherished institutions--notably the Roman Catholic Church, middle-class morality and vintage political correctness--without regard to fashion or consequence. As early as 1928, when Bunuel and fellow surrealist Salvador Dal scandalized the bourgeoisie with their landmark Un Chien Andalou, his glee and dark wit were everywhere evident. Ever after, he intrigued even his targets in the course of becoming one of the world's most respected film directors.

"Thank God I'm still an atheist," he once said--just after sitting a cast of tramps down at his blasphemous version of The Last Supper in 1961's Viridiana.

Bunuel made Belle de Jour, which exemplifies his unfettered late style, at the age of 67, when most directors have taken to their rockers. Even now, 28 years later, this corrosive tale of an elegant doctor's wife who spends her afternoons working in a brothel looks fresh, and it's as blackly humorous as ever. Starring the beautiful Catherine Deneuve as Severine, the film celebrates the liberating force of sexual passion--one of Bunuel's enduring themes--as it overturns the world's notions of conventional morality. Two years later, Deneuve would work with Bunuel again, as the malicious amputee--yes, amputee--in Tristana.

Thanks to an American champion, director Martin Scorsese, and Miramax Films, Belle de Jour has come back to the big screen after twenty years. It opens here Friday at the Chez Artiste for a run of at least three weeks.

"It's a tragedy," Scorsese writes, "that an entire generation has missed such an important film... unique even in Bunuel's body of work (The Exterminating Angel, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, etc.). It is up there with his best films--it's ravishing, perverse, hilarious and poetic all at once."



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