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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
The Diary of a Chambermaid is a transitional film in the development of Renoir's lesser known stylistic system. Braudy would later distinguish Renoir's two systems as being tied to theater and realism respectively (although there have been compelling arguments about these categories being either reductive or simply misnomers). Goddard is the focus of the story (much in the same way Renoir later uses Magnani, Arnoul and Bergman). The camera tracks her action, her closeups are one-shot, there are alternating shot scales in single scenes to emphasize her character's psychological reaction to events, studio exteriors help idealize the framing of her screen personality and high/low angle shots purvey her psychological perspective on group dynamics. Celestine (Goddard) has an ambiguity to her motivation that heightens psychological identification. It is unclear as to whether she sees the world divided into classes or sexes, or both. The ending is a happy one, and the politics is further subverted through jovial and emotionally-charged highly-individualized characters. Non-diegetic soundtrack is employed to increase distinctions in the emotional responses of different characters. Depth of field is at the service of Celestine's staging while obstructions in the mise-en-scene become incorporated into the plot. In this respect, the camera is not an unobtrusive one. There is an inconsistency in the use of stylistics, where on one hand reframing pans are fully at the service of psychological identification and privilege of the transcendental subject position while the long take mobile framing of the July 14th celebration reminisce on M.Lange, Illusion and Regle. Diary is a melodrama with comedic elements to take the edges off, but when the master of the house reads in the morning paper "another woman murdered in Paris, another woman cut to pieces" there is no doubt that Renoir is infusing a consideration for the plight of women in a misogynist society. This was very important to him and perhaps the dark undertones of this film have something to say about the repression he experienced working in Hollywood for the war. How Burgess Meredith factors into all that remains to be seen.
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