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Luis Aceves Castañeda
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>
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 »
DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID: Comparison between 1946 and 1964 Film Versions
I will say outright that not only is Luis Bunuel my favorite film director but I also consider him one of the ten of the all-time greatest. Rarely did a renowned film-maker make such a remarkable comeback after years of exile as Bunuel did with LOS OLVIDADOS (1950) and, even rarer still, did one director have such a sustained series of masterworks released towards the twilight of his career. Having said all this, however, I think that LE JOURNAL D'UNE FEMME DA CHAMBRE aka DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID (1964) is the weakest of the final ten feature films Bunuel made during the most fruitful period of his career (between 1961 and 1977) if such a choice were to be made, that is.
Don't get me wrong; I do think that LE JOURNAL is an excellent film and would probably be considered a bona-fide masterpiece if it were made by a lesser director. There is much to enjoy in the film: Jeanne Moreau's superb central performance as the opportunistic Celestine stricken by an unexpected sense of moral duty prompting her to nail the killer of the child even if she has to marry him to do so; Michel Piccoli's hilarious turn as the eternally insatiable but perennially unsatisfied master of the household who, when his sexual advances towards Celestine are turned down by the latter, has to make do with the ugly-looking house-maid; the aged father-in-law who invites Celestine into his room to read for him, all the while indulging in his foot fetish; the sadistic manservant who thinks nothing of violating and murdering innocent little girls while nurturing dreams of sealing his independence with the purchase of a pub all his own and with Celestine as his partner; the eccentric neighbour who sabotages their garden at every turn and yet yearns for Celestine's companionship, etc. Bunuel offers a typically scathing satire of the bourgeoisie here and, as has already been stated by others in this thread, also shows that he is adept at utilizing the widescreen format despite this being his first and only stab at it, as well as imbuing seemingly trivial and innocent sequences with a subtly perverse touch of subversion.
Even so, I do tend to generally agree with eminent film critic Leslie Halliwell's verdict on this particular film: 'Interesting but not especially successful Bunuel version; the subject is certainly up his street but the novel (by Octave Mirbeau) seems to restrict him'. I found the ending incomprehensible and disappointing myself at first but now I can appreciate not only its irony but its audacity. I have now watched the film three times twice on VHS and once on Criterion's DVD and I must say that it does improve with each viewing.
I don't know if anyone of you has seen Jean Renoir's 1946 US film version but somehow I actually prefer it to Bunuel's. I can't say I concur with Halliwell's review this time around dismissing as it did Renoir's film: 'Hollywood notables were all at sea in this wholly artificial and unpersuasive adaptation of a minor classic'! Leonard Maltin, a well-known US film critic, didn't like it much either saying that it was an 'uneasy attempt at a Continental-style romantic comedy tries hard but never really sure of what it wants to be (the cast) do their best to liven things'! Based on these two capsule reviews I was hardly expecting it to be a patch on the Bunuel version but I nevertheless purchased the PAL VHS (issued by 4 Front but subsequently deleted) since it was quite cheap and, after all, medium Renoir (another of my favorites, by the way) is better than many other film-makers around!
But, surprisingly, what could have easily been a inconsequential and frothy comedy of manners (the result of the typically sanitized Hollywood rewrites of subversive European literature) turned out to be an unprecedented black comedy with that uniquely French bleak outlook of things. Paulette Goddard plays Celestine in this one and she has probably never been better. In fact, as was also the case with the later Bunuel adaptation, the performances here are all first-rate: Hurd Hatfield as the idealistic young son who falls hopelessly in love with Celestine; Judith Anderson as the lady of the house firmly in control of every situation but with some strange alliances of her own; Irene Ryan as a timid scullery maid; Reginald Owen as the weak-willed master of the house perpetually harassed by his wife's demands; and particularly Burgess Meredith (who also wrote the screenplay!) as the half-crazed and shell-shocked retired Army Captain who is their neighbor; but especially Francis Lederer whose portrayal of the devilish manservant Joseph lusting after Celestine while scheming behind the back of his oppressive masters is quite chilling.
Doing some more reading on this film after watching it a couple of times, I found out that there are those who think more highly of Renoir's DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID than I was previously led to believe. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, no less an authority than Andre' Bazin, in his famous unfinished critical study of Renoir's films, goes so far as to call it a masterpiece and the finest of all the films Renoir made in America between 1941 and 1947. Well, who am I to argue? I do recommend that you seek it out if you have the chance if only to see how it compares with the more readily available Bunuel version.
The thing which struck me most when comparing these two film versions is how different the plot-line actually is from one film to the other. I haven't read the book so I can't say which is the more legitimate one but the differences are quite noteworthy: while there is no child murder in the Renoir version, Joseph does get to kill the eccentric neighbor; there is no handsome young master in Bunuel's version; there is no aged patriarch in Renoir's version; Joseph does not survive to see the realization of his dreams in the Renoir version but rather gets himself slightly killed in a climactic fight in the city streets with Celestine's young pretender, etc. I think it would be a worthwhile exercise if I were to get my hands on Octave Mirbeau's original novel some day!
As a matter of fact, I think a similarly fascinating comparison could be made between (incidentally, another favorite director of mine) Josef von Sternberg's final film with Marlene Dietrich, THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN (1935) and Luis Bunuel's cinematic swan song, CET OBSCUR OBJET DU DESIR aka THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE (1977) both of which were adapted from the same source material: Pierre Louys' 'La Femme Et Le Pantin'.
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