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Arturo de Córdova,
Celestine, the chambermaid, has new job on the country. The Monteils, who she works for are a group of strange people. The wife is frigid, her husband is always hunting (both animals and women) and her father is a shoe-fetishist. Joseph, the farm-labourer is a fascist and sexually attracted to Celestine. Celestine settles herself and talks to the neighbour, an ex-officer, who likes damaging his neighbour's things. After the death of the old man, she quits her job, but because of the rape and murder of a child 'Little Claire' she decides to stay, believing that Joseph is the murderer. To get his confession she sleeps with him and promises to marry him. In spite of her engagement she fakes evidence to implicate him in the murder. He is arrested, but is released because the evidence is inconclusive. She marries the ex-officer and takes on a housewife role similar to that of Madame Monteil Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
The demonstrating fascists shout "Vive Chiappe", a homage to the chief of the Parisian police who prohibited showing director Luis Buñuel's earlier film L'Age d'Or (1930) after fascists destroyed the cinema where it was being shown. See more »
This is my favorite Buñel film. The story is stunningly presented, an absolute work of art, unbelievably subtle but always concrete. It is like a great symphony: every note is perfect.
Surprisingly (considering the title) Le journal d'une femme de chambre is not about sex, nor is it a journal for that matter. It is about politics, sexual politics of course, but also domestic politics, manor politics, and nation-state politics. The time is the thirties as fascism moves toward its mesmerizing stranglehold on a decadent Europe. The place is France (Normandy, I imagine) where the republicans hold power. In the streets are those who would be brown suits and among them is Joseph (Georges Geret), groundskeeper for a petite bourgeois family of degenerate eccentrics. He is an incipient Nazi, a xenophobic anti-Semitic man who worships brute force, an ignorant man that every French movie-goer knows will be a Nazi-collaborator once France is under the occupation.
The story is seen from the point of view of Celestine, a chambermaid of some sophistication (and an abiding, but understandable duplicity), a Parisian who has come to work for the family in the country. She is played by the incomparable Jeanne Moreau of the plastic face, a woman of many guises, many moods and an ability to depict with a glance any emotion. She is a great star of the French stage and screen who plays the part effortlessly, with finesse and a fine subtlety. The screenplay by Buñel and the brilliant Jean-Claude Carriere (who penned so many outstanding films, Bell de Jour (1967), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), Valmont (1989), The Ogre (1996), etc.) is an adaptation of the novel by Octave Mirbeau. There is a Hollywood film of the same name starring Paulette Goddard, Burgess Meredith and Judith Anderson, directed by Jean Renoir that I haven't seen, released in 1946. I understand the treatment was more comedic and conventional.
Surrealist Luis Buñel's film is perhaps best described as a comédie noire, a genre antecedent to the familiar (and somewhat similar) film noir. In the latter the comedy is usually incidental and there is no attempt at any great philosophic or symbolic significance. Here Buñel not only makes a statement about the nature of the relationship between bourgeois Europe in the thirties and fascism, but even delves into the primeval nature of women and gives us a sharp look at a woman's place in bourgeois society. Celestine is duplicitous because she has to be to survive. She uses men the way the society uses her.
Be sure and pay close attention to the final scene inside and outside the café and consider the implications of what is being shown. What is being suggested? Will Joseph finally get the punishment he so richly deserves? Or did Celestine make the choice she made out of fear? Is the union between Joseph and Celestine symbolic of that between the fascists and Europe?
For those interested in this last theme I highly recommend Vittoria De Sica's brilliant The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1971).
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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