Hands and Feet in BELLE DE JOUR

by Elisabeth Mohr and Benjamin Deboosere

Video Essay

Creator’s Statement: From Text to Film – Notes on a Translation

In popular media and film theory, Luis Buñuel is repeatedly claimed to be a fetishist for his frequent use of shots of feet (see Sarris 1971, 24; Schütz 1990, 227; Robinson 1978, 242; Medina 2004; Morefield 2009). The director himself has, however, denied these allegations (see Bazin and Doniol-Valcroze 1955, 185); co-workers and friends have testified to Buñuel’s work method, describing it as “rather painful, highly selective, much less intuitive and spontaneous than film critics generally believe“ (Aranda 1971, 8). Despite these statements, the myth of Buñuel the foot fetishist is still present today (for example in LUIS BUÑUEL: FETISHIST, Cole Smithey, 2015). 

This conflict was the starting point for Elisabeth Mohr’s seminar paper about BELLE DE JOUR (Luis Buñuel, FR 1967) (Mohr 2016). In this paper, Mohr analyzed shots of hands and feet to understand their narrative purpose, defying the gratuitous explanation of a fetish. Throughout the analysis, Mohr inferred that Buñuel uses a kind of cinematic language that is intuitively understandable while at the same time ambiguous and complex; it is efficient and not sentimental; and it is surprising in the sense that the images often oppose the viewer’s expectations. Discussing these findings with filmmaker Benjamin Deboosere, a question arose: Could this written analysis be expressed audiovisually? And how would it affect one’s understanding of the film? To accompany the resulting video essay, the following provides a look into the process of translation from text to audiovisual material.

Embracing ambiguity

A crucial insight emerging from the paper was that interpretations which ignored the images’ immediate simplicity resulted in inconsistent or far-fetched explanations (for example Durgnat 1977, 139; Evans 1995, 163). Buñuel’s cinematic language heavily relies on intuitively understandable images rather than on dialogue, and therefore pertains ambiguity throughout the film. Our goal was to bring accross Bunuel’s style audiovisually, so it seemed only natural that ambiguity had to be part of the video essay. An interesting challenge, as this idea stands in direct opposition with the clarity of a written paper. 

We decided to make the video essay exclusively with material from BELLE DE JOUR itself and abstain from adding any recordings of spoken language, e.g., an explanatory voice-over. Therefore, the audiovisual images would retain that certain ambiguity and implicitness, embracing it rather than trying to even it out. We had seen similar approaches in works by Matthias Müller (HOME STORIES, GER 1990), Martin Arnold (PASSAGE À L’ACTE, AT 1993), or Ariel Avissar (TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU SAW [REAR PSYCHO, PART 1], 2020) and were excited to experiment. 


To bring across an understanding of the purpose of certain shots of hands and feet, we traced the analytical process of the written paper: looking at the images repeatedely, listening to the sound carefully, and remembering the feeling that arose when seeing a specific scene for the very first time. In the video essay, repetitions and intercutting are generally the techniques we used to reconstruct this process. Furthermore, we let the material dictate the form during the editing: According to what we felt had to be emphasized, we singled out bits of sound or added small visual aspects like intertitles/chapters, a time counter and zooms in the image. 

Avoiding mental overload

In a written paper, it is necessary to list several arguments to build a “case” that supports the plausibility of an analysis. In trying to unfold thoughts with a video essay, however, we experienced that sticking to the scope of the written paper would result in confusion: the more arguments we wanted to bring across, and the more scenes we used in the video essay, the more complicated everything became. Consequently, rather than presenting scene analyses and results, we were in a process of arranging scenes in a way that enables the viewer to intuitively understand the shots even though they are presented outside of the film’s context and transferred into a new montage. 

We also realized that the chronology of a paper could not simply be conveyed to a video essay. Rather, the structure of our essay relies on the level of complexity of what we aim to articulate. The essay begins with scenes that are easier to grasp and moves on to more difficult connections; which gives the audience time to adapt to the filmic language. For one, because audiovisual images realize different meaning-making processes than verbal communication; and also in the sense that the viewer has to pick up on the specificity of the video essay itself and the strategies being used.

Audiovisual literacy

The written paper on how Buñuel uses shots of hands and feet in BELLE DE JOUR ends with a conclusion, summarizing and addressing the nuances and many sides of Buñuel’s cinematic language: the subtle humor, the efficiency of communication, the development of emotions portrayed in the film. The video essay, however, does not end with an elaborate conclusion, like it is usual for papers: these results were too conceptual to be shown in the video essay. Instead, we decided to repeat a selection of the images from the essay but also add shots of hands and feet that weren’t included in the essay. First, this shows the scope of the amount of shots of hands and feet in the film as well as the idea that these unexplained shots might have their reasons as well, rather than being Buñuel’s fetish. And second, we thereby reflect the process of understanding through film-viewing the viewer has undergone.

Such an understanding, we believe, is different from knowledge enabled by a paper. In written language, different components of the audiovisual image have to be separated to analyze and talk about them. In a film, however, such divisions don’t actually exist – our reception of images is immediate and encompassing. In the process of watching, ‘how something is told’ isn’t isolated from ‘what is being told’. 

This means that the respective audience of the video essay most probably will have difficulties to talk about what they’ve understood: They have ‘an image’ in the literal sense of the word, as an (audio)visual impression, a direct communication without the mediation of verbal language. We can at best describe this as a form of implicit knowledge, an audiovisual literacy of Buñuel’s filmic language.


Aranda, J. Francisco: Introduction. In: Buñuel, Luis: Tristana. A Film. Translated by Nicholas Fry. London: Lorrimer 1971, 5–11. 

Bazin, André, and Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (1955): Conversation with Buñuel. Sight and Sound 24 (4): 181–85. 

Durgnat, Raymond: Luis Buñuel. Berkeley/Los Angeles 1977. 

Evans, Peter William: The Films of Luis Buñuel. Subjectivity and Desire. Oxford 1995.

Medina, Susana: Buñuel’s Philosophical Toys (Script for Short Film). In: Isabel Santaolalla, Patricia d’Allemand, Jorge Diaz Cintas et al. (eds.): Buñuel, Siglo XXI. Zaragoza 2004, 335–338.

Mohr, Elisabeth: Mit Händen und Füßen: Wie Luis Buñuel BELLE DE JOUR porträtiert, unpublished seminar paper, Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt/Oder, 2016. (Available as unreviewed preprint on OSFPreprints: https://osf.io/utrxe/.) 

Morefield, Kenneth R.: Luis Buñuel. 1More Film Blog (12 May 2009). http://www.patheos.com/blogs/1morefilmblog/luis-bunuel/ (last access 13 October 2023).

Robinson, David: “Thank God – I Am Still An Atheist”: Luis Buñuel and Viridiana. In: Joan Mellen (ed.): The World of Luis Buñuel. Essays in Criticism. New York 1978, 235–243. 

Schütz, Jutta: „Vom Ende her gesehen. Funktion der Schlüsse in einigen Romanverfilmungen Buñuels“. In: Ursula Link-Heer and Volker Roloff (eds.): Luis Buñuel: Film – Literatur – Intermedialität. Darmstadt 1994, 204–215. 

Audiovisual Sources

BELLE DE JOUR, Luis Buñuel, FR/IT 1967.

HOME STORIES, Matthias Müller, GER 1990.

LUIS BUÑUEL: FETISHIST, Cole Smithey, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OKwCEBJfMs

PASSAGE À L’ACTE, Martin Arnold, AT 1993.

TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU SAW [REAR PSYCHO, PART 1], Ariel Avissar, 2020. https://vimeo.com/472812501