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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Luis Buñuel, the man considered Spain's finest filmmaker and revered master of surrealism by both critics and film historians, made a surprising change of style in the first of the series of masterpiece she did in France during his last years. Taking out his usual surrealist set-pieces, he adapts Octave Mirbeau's revered novel about social classes in a very straight-forward fashion. However, this does not mean the movie is bad as many may believe; quite the opposite, "Le Journal d'eune Femme de Chambre" is a perfect showcase of Buñuel's finest film-making style, ambiguous and stylish, like the master's own vision of life.
The plot follows Celestine (Jeanne Moreau), an urban young woman moving to country in 30s France to work as a chambermaid for the Monteils, a rich family with a few dark secrets. As soon as she arrives, problems start as she tries to adapt to her new life with the bizarre Monteils. Between the constant advances of sexually insatiable Monsieur Monteil (Michel Piccoli), the always vigilant eye of his materialist wife (Françoise Lugagne) and the shoe fetish of old Monsieur Rabour (Jean Ozenne); Celestine makes her way through this collection of living portraits of the most bizarre human nature.
With a plot like this it would easy to believe this is a movie where the high class is demonized and the poor sanctified, but this is not the case here. Buñuel makes sure to have an ambiguity in every character, even in Celestine herself. There is no black and white, just different shades of gray, in a way similar to the beautiful black & white photography he uses here.
The photography is essential in this film; not only for aesthetic purposes, it represents the dark decadent days of 30s Europe, and the pessimism latent in both rich and poor people. As I wrote above, the shades of gray match perfectly the ambiguity of a group of characters with as many virtues as flaws. Buñuel and his cast manage to create believable and realistic characters.
Jeanne Moreau gives a brilliant performance as Celestine. As the beautiful young city woman highly intelligent and not without aspirations, her character has enough room to let her shine, and she really makes the most of it. Equally brilliant is Georges Géret as Joseph, the tough gardener with fascist ideals that has a secret agenda. The rest of the cast is also very good and together with the witty script complete a superb character-driven movie.
Buñuel's masterful direction creates a film that, while completely focused on the characters, is still filled with his usual symbolism. The edition and the camera-work are superb and way the camera seems to flow inside the house gives the film a voyeuristic feeling. No wonder why Buñuel consider it a very erotic film.
While many people consider this movie as one of his "lesser works", I consider it to be quite underrated, as it proved that Buñuel was a master not only of surrealism, but of film-making in general. 9/10
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