Based on Octave Mirbeau’s 1900 novel, Le journal d’une femme de chambre (Diary of a Chambermaid) is the story of a chambermaid who becomes a servant for a family in rural France as she sees things that prompt her to use her sexuality for gain. For the 1964 adaptation directed by Luis Bunuel with an adapted script by Bunuel and his then-new collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere. Bunuel sets the story in 1939 France during a period of political unrest in France. Starring Jeanne Moreau, Georges Geret, Daniel Ivernel, and Michel Piccoli. Le journal d’une femme de chambre is an intriguing yet exhilarating drama from Luis Bunuel.
Celestine (Jeanne Moreau) is a Parisian woman in her 30s arriving in a rural town in France to work as a chambermaid for a rich family headed by the aging Monsieur Rabour (Jean Ozenne). His daughter (Francoise Lugagne) gives Celestine strict orders about what to do as Celestine learns about the family. Monsieur Monteil (Michel Piccoli) has an eye for Celestine as does Rabour who asks her to read to her and wear shoes for his enjoyment. Yet, Celestine still has to deal with Monteil, his wife, Rabour, and the gruff yet political groundskeeper Joseph (Georges Geret). Celestine chooses to continue with her work as she befriends the neighbor in the retired Captain Mauger (Daniel Ivernel) who despises Monteil.
With Celestine getting used to the tense world of the Monteil as she befriends a young girl named Claire (Dominique Sauvage) while having a hard time with Joseph. When she spends time with Rabour, she tries on some shoes for him to his excitement only for a couple of events to end this excitement. A murder has happened as Celestine has suspicions as she uses her sexuality to get a few answers. While she has also decided to stay to help out Monsieur and Madame Monteil, she also gets close with Mauger who gets involved with a lawsuit against Monteil. With Celestine finding out who possibly committed the murder, she finds a way out of being a servant to the rich.
The film is about a maid working for a rich family where things are very tense as she has to deal with a strict madam, a philandering man who likes to hunt, an aging master who has a fetish for women in leather shoes, and a groundskeeper who spouts political rhetoric. Yet, Celestine is a woman who is very beautiful and wears fine clothing as some wonder why a Parisian maid would work for a rich family in rural France? Well, she hopes to find someone who can help her give her a life without having to serve someone or be ridiculed. While she has to contend with Monsieur Monteil and Rabour along with Joseph. She does find some comfort in the elderly but honorable Mauger despite his suggestions to deal with Monteil.
The screenplay that Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere create is a wonderful character study that also a bit of sexual play into the film. At the same time, there’s some political elements in both Mauger and Joseph. The latter of which is very anti-Semitic, nationalist, and right-wing man who hates priests but loves religion as he hopes to have a café nearby this ongoing revolution against immigrants. Joseph is also a man who is very violent that makes him a likely suspect over what happened though he is not an easy person to peg since he can read people and often speaks the truth. Bunuel and Carriere play up this game of sexual politics between Celestine and Joseph while giving the idea of the home that Celestine works in as an idea of Fascist that some viewers might not understand.
Bunuel’s direction is truly mesmerizing in its imagery and composition. From the look of the town that he shoots in to the way he captures intimacy in the house that Celestine works in. Bunuel creates something that is very intoxicating along with shots to present something that is sexual but not too graphic. Notably a shot of Celestine showing Rabour a bit of leg in the leather shoes he wanted her to wear. There is also some wonderful shots such as close-ups and dollies that Bunuel brings into understand the behaviors and things that is happening throughout the film. While it has a few flaws, Bunuel does create something that is enriching and chilling in this provocative yet brilliant film.
Cinematographer Roger Fellous doe a wonderful job with the film‘s black-and-white cinematography to create a look that is a mix of the old-school cinema of the early 20th Century along with the more vibrant look of the French New Wave. Fellous also creates some wonderful lighting schemes with shades and nighttime shots to set an eerie mood for these particular scenes. Editor Louisette Hautecoeur does a great job with the editing while creating something that is very straightforward with a bit of style with some jump-cuts and transitional dissolves to keep the story moving.
Production and costume designer Georges Wakhevitch does an excellent job with the look of the film in creating a posh yet early 20th Century look to the home as well as the clothes the people wear. Notably the maid dress and stockings that Celestine wears to woo some of the men in the film. The sound work by Antoine Petitjean is very good for its intimate locations as well as the broad atmosphere of the town Celestine comes across in.
The cast is truly brilliant for the large ensemble that is assembled. Making small yet memorable appearances include co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere as a priest, Claude Jaeger as a judge, Gilberte Geniat as Mauger’s maid, Marguerite Muni as the other maid that Celestine works with, and Dominique Sauvage as the little girl Claire. Francoise Lugagne is excellent as the strict yet icy Madame Monteil who likes to have things in her way while not giving her husband any kind of satisfaction. Jean Ozenne is really good as Rabour, Madame Monteil’s father who likes to keep things to himself while finding pleasure in Celestine wearing leather heels. Michel Piccoli is great as the skirt-chasing Monteil who wants Celestine while trying to deal with his wife and his neighbor.
Daniel Ivernel is brilliant as Captain Mauger, a former army officer who is a man of honor as he treats Celestine with kindness while having his own issues with Monteil whom he really dislikes. Georges Geret is superb as the brutish yet ambitious groundskeeper Joseph who engages into a battle of wit and sexual politics against Celestine while being a very political individual with some strong views. Finally, there’s Jeanne Moreau in a fantastic performance as the film’s protagonist Celestine. Moreau brings a very understated sexuality to her performance while being quite tough and not going overboard when she’s being harassed. It’s definitely one of her finest performances in a glorious career.
Le journal d’une femme de chambre is a phenomenal yet hypnotic film from Luis Bunuel featuring a radiant performance from the legendary Jeanne Moreau. While it is one of Bunuel’s finest films, some viewers might be lost in the satire that Bunuel is trying to say about Fascism while the sexual politics of the film makes it very engaging to watch. In the end, Le journal d’une femme de chambre is a fascinating character study from the revered Luis Bunuel.
Luis Bunuel Films: Un Chien Andalou - L'Age d'Or - Land Without Bread - (Gran Casino) - (The Great Madcap) - Los Olvidados - (Susana) - (La hija de engano) - (Mexican Bus Ride) - (A Woman Without Love) - (El Bruto) - (El) - (Illusion Travels by Streetcar) - (Wuthering Heights (1954)) - Robinson Crusoe (1954) - (The Criminal Live of Archibaldo de la Cruz) - (El rio y la muerte) - (Cela S'apelle l'Aurore) - (Death in the Garden) - (Nazarin) - (La Fievre a El Pasao) - (The Young One) - Viridiana - The Exterminating Angel - Simon of the Desert - (Belle de Jour) - (The Milky Way) - Tristana - The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie - (The Phantom of Liberty) - (That Obscure Object of Desire)
© thevoid99 2011
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