10 March 2012
Diary of a Chambermaid (1964) is the first of Buñuel's last seven films, and his last in a very greyish but clear black and white - to be followed by Belle de Jour (1967), The Milky Way (1969), Tristana (1970), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), The Phantom of Liberty (1974), and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). It has no surrealist imagery nor plot twists like his other films, but draws equal fascination from the attraction of a linearly, but very tightly told story.
Le journal d'une femme de chambre is also the first screenwriting collaboration between Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière, which should last until the former's death. The two extensively reworked the novel by Octave Mirbeau, which had been given a more literal treatment in its first film adaptation, directed 1946 by Jean Renoir in Hollywood. The period is now the early 1930's, and both political right and left are practising extremist politics. Carrière, in this constellation, ably and suavely plays the part of the village priest, a thoroughly revolting character.
Jeanne Moreau, as stylish, attractive young Celestine, arrives from Paris to become chambermaid for an odd family at their country chateau. The household consists of a childless couple, and the frigid wife's elderly father. The wife runs a rigidly tidy house; her husband (Michel Piccoli) amuses himself by hunting small game and pursuing all the females within range - the previous chambermaid seems to have left pregnant and had to be "bought off."
The wife's father amuses himself with his collection of racy postcards and novels, and a closet full of women's shoes and boots, that he likes his chambermaids to model. There are several servants, including Joseph, driver and groundskeeper, who's a rightist, an antisemitic nationalist, a violent man. Their next-door neighbor is a burly retired army captain, with a chubby maid/mistress and a violent streak of his own, which includes throwing refuse and stones over the fence.
Celestine almost at once finds her role in a house completely defined by the sexual leanings of its inhabitants, and she proceeds to use her own considerable attractiveness to accomplish her goals. When the elderly father is found dead in an untidy bed, clutching some boots that Celestine had worn earlier that evening, however, she decides to leave the job the next day. Previously, however, she had become motherly and protective of a young girl named Claire who regularly came to the house.
On her way to the train station, Celestine learns that the girl's raped and mutilated body has been found in a nearby wood, so she decides to stay on at the job, in order to revenge the murderer. She quickly finds reason to suspect Joseph, the groundskeeper. She seduces and promises to marry him and join him to run a café in Cherbourg, hoping he will confess the crime to her, but he does not. She then contrives and plants evidence to at least implicate him.
Joseph is arrested, but eventually released for lack of solid evidence; there is a strong suggestion, however, that the real reason is his rightwing political activism. Meanwhile Celestine agrees to marry her neighbor, the retired army captain, and after the marriage, we see him serving her breakfast in bed and obeying her commands. The film ends with a mob of nationalists marching past the café in Cherbourg run by Joseph, who is shouting supportive rightist slogans.
11 March 2012
65uk Journal d'une femme de chambre by Luis Bunuel (1964, 97')