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Celestine, the chamber-maid, has a new job in the country, at the Lanlaires. She has decided to use her beauty to seduce a wealthy man, but Mr. Lanlaire is not a right choice: the house is firmly controlled by Madame Lanlaire, helped by the strange valet Joseph. Then she tries the neighbour, former officer Mauger. This seems to work. But soon the son of the Lanlaires comes back. He is young, attractive and does not share his mother's antirepublican opinions. So Celestine's beauty attracts Captain Mauger, young Georges Lanlaire, and Joseph. Three men, from three different social classes, with three different conceptions of life. Will Celestine be able to convince Georges of her sincerity? Will sinister and inflexible Joseph let his views on Celestine be ruined? A quite disillusioned depiction of humanity. Written by
Octave Mirbeau's brilliant, chilling novel was written more than 100 years ago, but its sordid, sexy, near-surrealistic mood and story could not possibly be given a worthy treatment in 1946, and certainly not in an America still subject to the Hays code. This film takes only some of the incidents in the episodic novel and tries to make the story into an eccentric romantic comedy. But, minus the mood and ambiance of the novel, the result is awkward and odd. An important aspect of the novel, anti-semitism (the book was written when France was torn apart by the Dreyfus case) is completely left out, and, instead of perversion and cruelty, Celestine experiences, from her employers, only annoyance. The performances are lightweight, except for Francis Lederer (always good at gentlemanly brutes) as the sinister valet. The film's only moments of horror occur when he indulges his talent, and taste, for discreet violence.
Nothing the great Renoir directed is without interest, and this Diary certainly has moments of beauty and affectionate comedy. But a much more accurate adaptation was Bunuel's in 1964. He left in the anti- semitism, and his own sexy-sadistic-surrealistic mood was a perfect match for Mirbeau's. One moment in this story reminded me of a similar incident, one of my favourites in a Bunuel film. The family for whom the chambermaid works lives next to a peppery, eccentric old man who demonstrates his loathing for his neighbours by throwing rocks through the panes of their greenhouse. In The Exterminating Angel, the partygoers are frightened when a brick is thrown through the window. The host calms them with "It's nothing. Just a passing Jew." Priceless!
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