Wednesday, June 08, 2016

“Diary Of A Chambermaid”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new French drama “Diary Of A Chambermaid”, starring Léa Seydoux and directed by Benoît Jacquot. 


When a young chambermaid seeks to escape her demanding employers, will she be willing to break the law in order to do so?


At the turn of the 20th century in France, Célestine (Léa Seydoux) is having a hard life working as a chambermaid for various wealthy families.  Poor but quite beautiful, she is pursued by her male bosses; both her male and female employers end up taking advantage of her, but in very different ways.  Having recently left a plum assignment in Paris under some mysterious circumstances, Célestine winds up taking a job in the provinces where she works at the mansion of a the Lanlaire family; sadly, her fortunes turn out to be no different there as Mrs. Lanlaire is nasty and Mr. Lanlaire is constantly trying to get her into bed (just as he has previously with other female servants). 

Trying to adapt as best she can, Célestine attempts to befriend Marianne, the family cook, and Joseph, their gardener and coach driver.  Although she seems to be hitting it off well with Marianne, Joseph is another matter; he is quite aloof and a bit spooky, staring menacingly at her while on the grounds or at church.  Nevertheless, Célestine does her level best to navigate through the treacherous waters between the lady and gentleman of the house, resenting them both.  All the while, she dreams of a better life somewhere else doing something else – the only question is where and doing what?

Eventually, Joseph warms up to her and makes an effort to engage Célestine.  Joseph admits to her that he wants to be with her; he has a bit of money saved and they could leave for a big city where the two could earn a tidy income – basically by Joseph serving as her pimp while she got paid to sleep with strange men.  Initially, Célestine is turned off to the idea, but after suffering with The Lanlaires, she gets fed up and decides to accept Joseph’s offer.  But when he reveals a scheme of how they’ll rob The Lanlaires before they quit, will Célestine go along with the plan or back-out in the end?


“Diary Of A Chambermaid” is based on a novel of the same name by Octave Mirbeau, which was published in 1900.  Since then, it has seen three film adaptations:  the original in 1946 (directed by Jean Renoir), then in 1964 (Luis Buñuel’s version) and again now (as interpreted by Benoît Jacquot).  In that regard, you might say that the current one is a copy of a copy; as often happens when you make a copy of a copy, its clarity and quality suffers.  Such is the case with the new version of this adaptation.  The episodic nature of the storytelling combined with an ending that screeches to a halt with many questions left unanswered causes this effort to suffer immensely. 

Why does Celestine suddenly team with Joseph after having such negative impressions of him?  The film chooses to ignore this.  Narratively, the movie abruptly switches to what turn out to be flashbacks without clearly identifying them as such, ultimately confusing the viewer.  On a technical note, the film is in French with English subtitles that are in white; as a result, they can occasionally be hard to read when superimposed over light backgrounds.  Why filmmakers don’t get the hint and start subtitling in the easier to read yellow may forever remain a mystery.  Inattention to these kinds of details speak to either the arrogance, apathy or ambivalence of the international distributors – it’s unclear which, or perhaps a combination of two or more of these. 

After the screening, director Benoît Jacquot appeared for a brief question and answer session with the audience.  Through an interpreter, Jacquot said that he came to make this movie through a recommendation from a friend; although he had never previously read the Mirbeau novel, he did admit to seeing the previous two film adaptations.  He felt that the Renoir version was very different from Buñuel’s and with that in mind, he wanted to take a stab at his own view.  Another reason why Jacquot claimed he was motivated to do this motion picture was due to the fact that some of the political issues informing France from a century ago continue to resonate today.      

Diary of a Chambermaid (2015) on IMDb

No comments:

Post a Comment

Speak Your Piece, Beeyotch!