The shot that encapsulates the whole film might be the one establishing the final scene, in which Séverine's house is overlayed with the forest from her fantasies – the two worlds of reality and the imagination reunited. Séverine is a bourgeois housewife whose husband is completely devoted to her. Her masochistic sexuality is suppressed, and she cannot be intimate with him. Buñuel and his screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière apparently talked to prostitutes, madams, psychiatrists and psychologists in order to compile real material for the film and try to portray female desire accurately.* Carrière stresses that they (being male filmmakers) were amateurs in the field, but it's nonetheless interesting that there's very little that smacks of the male gaze in the final film. Deneuve wasn't happy with the shots of the black see-through veil, but on the whole nudity is sparse and the camera cuts as soon as the sex starts. Buñuel seems more interested in exploring the weirdest sexual kinks he can find, all with the intention to make us let go of our hang-ups and accept the crazy people we are. The violent but beautiful criminal youth is little more that a plot device. The spirit of the film is probably best embodied by the louche Michel Piccoli, a rich libertine who is entirely at ease with humanity's perversions, and whose interventions help Séverine come to terms with her sexuality, and finally reunite her with her husband.
*Séverine's masochism grew out of the need to fit the character into the plot (supplied by a novel Buñuel didn't much care for), so only a particular facet of female desire is explored in the film.