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Chris Kompanek

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On the Culture Front: Belle de Jour Comes to Blu-ray and Anthony Minghella's Madama Butterfly Returns to the Met

Posted: 03/ 6/2012 4:27 pm

I never quite understood the thrill of Blu-ray until I watched Criterion's new release of Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour. The film made an indelible impression on me when I saw it as a teenager and fueled my exploration of the director's more absurd gem's, including The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Phantom of Liberty, in which the characters sit around a table communally defecating then excuse themselves to eat in a tiny little room.

Belle doesn't have any of these surreal gimmicks, but it's a wicked journey through the deeply hidden dark impulses of the psyche. Catherine Deneuve is hauntingly stunning as a bored housewife who longs for sexual pleasures outside the realm of comprehension of her husband. On Blu-ray, all evidence of the past fades and she bursts on the screen with such vibrancy that it's hard to believe she isn't eternally 24. The script, by Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere, is edgy and smart, and the new English translation brings us closer to their original vision than ever before. It's the kind of film that begs repeat viewings, and, with a beautiful painting of Deneuve gracing the cover, will look good on your bookshelf as well.

Revisiting great experiences can be tricky. Sometimes it's better to let that first impression burn brightly until it fades into a blurred hue only identified by a heightened emotion. I'll always remember the mirrors in Anthony Minghella's 2006 production of Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan Opera. They glistened onstage, reflecting any and everything that caught their eye. As Butterfly deals with identity, they are metaphorically fitting, but their evocative presence resonates deeper than a single note comparison. After Minghella died in 2008, the production seemed to grow as a glowing homage to the best of his talents. Chances are more will remember him for writing and directing The English Patient, but his Butterfly (playing a final performance this season at the Met on Thursday) achieves an elusive rarity. It's both of our time and Puccini's. Minghella modernizes not with grand scenery or radical decisions but with a sensibility that bridges the gap of understanding between two time periods.