Celestine, Maid at Your Service (1974) Poster

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4/10
CELESTINE AN ALL ROUND MAID (Jesus Franco, 1974) **
MARIO GAUCI23 January 2011
To begin with, the opening credits of this English-dubbed version (of mediocre quality, which does not preclude a word of thanks from me to its enthusiastic supplier, a Venetian friend of mine!) omits any mention of it being in any way based on Octave Mirbeau's novel "Diary Of A Chambermaid", previously idiosyncratically filmed by Frenchman Jean Renoir in the U.S. and Spaniard Luis Bunuel in France (the very same situation as Jess Franco and his 'adaptation' – except for the end result, of course!).

Since Franco's career has had many phases, most people are drawn to one while being disappointed or, like the undersigned, left scratching their head at virtually all the others. So far, I have tried films from all these various periods except for the latest (though I own the reasonably well-received SNAKEWOMAN [2005] from it) but I find myself more comfortable with his work emanating from the 1961-1971 years. Others, however, consider his "Robert De Nesle" titles (dating approximately from 1970-1978) his most creative – from which I only really like 3 i.e. 1971's A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, 1973's THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR and 1974's LORNA THE EXORCIST. With this in mind, though I watched the film as part of my ongoing Bunuel retrospective, it is practically useless to compare it with his version (much less the Renoir one). The thing is that Franco has made of it a sex comedy – complete with silly score – pretty much on the similarly bawdy and vacuous lines (read invincibly low-brow) of Italian efforts dating from the same period and featuring any number of popular starlets (and which have by now acquired a largely undeserved cult reputation)!

To be honest, the only reason I ended up not rating this even less than I did was the fact that Celestine's presence in the household ultimately brought its members closer together. Incidentally, her obsession with sex (though, truth be told, all characters seem to share this and, by extension, so does the director – amazingly, the script was written by Jess' wife Nicole Guettard, while the leading lady was her replacement in his life i.e. Lina Romay!) is excused here by making the heroine a prostitute (at one point, she 'services' practically the entire household in quick succession, having to hide away every 'client' with each new knock at her bedroom door!). At least, Franco displays some inventiveness with the sex scenes so as to avoid slipping into hardcore territory (were it that he adopted this much tact more often)!

The cast is peppered with his regulars from this era, notably Howard Vernon (embarrassing as a bed-ridden old-timer), Pamela Stanford (playing the naïve daughter here, this at least attests to her versatility – since she would play the witch Lorna soon after!), Lynne Monteil (whom I had liked in the same year's EXORCISM, now as the lady of the house), Monica Swinn (curiously uncredited) but, unfortunately, also Bigotini (who with his plump features and thick whiskers makes for the least ideal lover one could imagine, and a far cry from his sinister counterpart in the Renoir and Bunuel versions!). In the end, having finally just purchased Mirbeau's source novel, I know there is little chance of it being closer to the Franco film than those of the two more renowned directors (both of whom are among my absolute favorites). Then again, the person who regaled me with this copy of CELESTINE also sent along a book he edited – and personally contributed to – about "Uncle Jess" (as he is affectionately called by hardened fans) which I appreciated a great deal more (and intend delving into in the near future) than this very minor effort in his never-ending legacy...
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Franco madness
Michael_Elliott26 February 2008
Celestine, An All Round Maid (1974)

** (out of 4)

Italian sex comedy from Jess Franco actually has the same source of Luis Bunuel's Diary of a Chambermaid but this here goes for way more laughs. The police raid a brothel and a prostitute (Lina Romay) escapes into the countryside. The woman, Celestine, ends up at a rich folks house where she ends up sleeping with two of the servants who then get her a job as a maid. Before long Celestine is sleeping with everyone trying to bring some joy to their lives. I was really letdown with this film after reading some positive reviews for it. Romay is cute and charming as always but the supporting cast, including Pamela Stanford, Monica Swinn and Howard Vernon are rather dull. There are some funny moments but not enough to fill the 93-minute running time. The best scene is when Romay is trying to rest in the morning but at least seven people show up for sex. Each time a new one knocks at the door she must try and hide the one she's currently sleeping with. This here was my 90th Franco film (not including four alternate versions).
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