Diary of a Chambermaid

Dominique Sauvage in Diary of a Chambermaid [Le journal d'une femme de chambre] (dir. Luis Buñuel, 1964).

Georges Géret and Jeanne Moreau.


Very little of Buñuel's characteristic surrealism here, and what there is consists largely in the casual suggestiveness of certain images: a Little Red Riding Hood girl collecting snails in a dark forest, an old man fetishistically caressing patent leather boots even in death, a churl torturing a goose. And yet it's every bit as disorienting in its way as Viridiana or other films from the same period.

The Parisian chambermaid Celestine, as played by Jeanne Moreau, plays her cards so close to her chest that we can't tell whether she's bluffing or just doesn't know the rules. Much of the film's emotional intensity resides in how it makes us concerned not just with what decisions Celestine makes, but with her ability to discern what is at stake, to exercise ethical judgment in those areas where it coincides with erotic friction. Her motivations seem complex, conflicted, ambiguous, though it's never clear whether this uncertainty is on her side or only ours.

Buñuel (with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière) pushes the time of Octave Mirbeau's novel forward to the late twenties, when fascism in France was gaining ever more steam. This leads to a savage twist on the original ending, a twist that is both politically chilling and an occasion for Buñuel to serve a belated slap in the face to an old enemy, Jean Chiappe, the Préfet de police who banned L'Âge d'Or upon its 1930 release.

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