The last credit at the start of Manoel de Oliveira's Belle toujours dedicatesthe film in honor of Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière, thereby suggesting that this is not to be a sequel to the 1967 Belle de jour so much as a celebration of that film. Which, more or less, turns out to be the case: Belle toujours does not meaningfully expand on the ideas of the original, but functions instead as an extended "thank you" to Buñuel for existing.

While the first film explored the overlapping sex and fantasy lives of Séverine Serizy (played then by Catherine Deneuve, here by Bulle Ogier), this film is much more prosaic, and concerned not with Séverine but with Henri Husson, the licentious and pervy old man played in both films by Michel Piccoli. It is an entirely plotless film, consisting essentially of two acts: the first part, in which Henri frequents a bar whose patrons seem to consist solely of two prostitutes and the young bartender; and the second part, in which Henri convinces Séverine to join him for a luxurious dinner and angry conversation.

As every review of the film sees fit to point out, de Oliveira is 97 years old, and has been directing films for some seventy years. One would expect that this would grant him a certain sense of knowing what he's doing, and Belle toujours is clearly the work of a director with no doubts as to his art. It is stripped bare of everything inessential, running a shockingly gaunt 68 minutes, and needing not one moment longer to create its effect. There is hardly any camera movement or editing (most of the shots run upwards of five minutes per take), and the story is told largely through tiny maniuplations of the mise en scène, particular the presence or absence of alcohol, and the contrast between black and color, which only late in the film blossoms into the triangulation of black, color and light. It is the sort of film where a conversation begins with a lit candelabra in the background, during the shot candelabra goes out, the audience realizes this belatedly, and that is the primary emotional moment of the converation.

As an old man, de Oliveira can be forgiven for focusing on themes of aging, and how we change or not through life. I am not certain if Deneuve was invited to take part in the film, but I'm very glad she did not: that Séverine is no longer played by the same actress makes her protestations that she is not the same person she once was considerably truer and more ironic. And that Piccoli still plays Henri leads us to suspect, correctly, that he is the same horndog as in the first film. The new film bears little resemblance to Belle de jour, a stylistic mash-up between Buñuel's Surrealism and the French nouvelle vague, nor does its plot bear much in common with the original, given the way that it treats as unsettled questions that the first film didn't even necessarily raise. Despite that, it is impossible to imagine this scenario without the presence of the 1967 film; somewhat like Before Sunset, it functions not as a self-contained narrative but as an exploration of how things are different than they used to be. In fact, a "true: sequel to Belle de jour could not achieve the same effect as Belle toujours given how the very strong differences between the 1967 and 2006 films relate back to the latter film's theme: the past can't come back.

Raising the very important question: does Belle toujours actually work as a film? If it requires knowledge of the original for its effect, what's left without that knowledge? A talky film with lots of static shots and very detailed set design? Could you reasonably call that "good"?

Thank God I don't have to worry about that.