This wicked adaptation of the Octave Mirbeau novel is classic Luis Buñuel. Jeanne Moreau is Celestine, a beautiful Parisian domestic who, upon arrival at her new job at an estate in provincial 1930s France, entrenches hers... more »elf in sexual hypocrisy and scandal with her philandering employer (Buñuel regular Michel Piccoli). Filmed in luxurious black-and-white Franscope, Diary of a Chambermaid is a raw-edged tangle of fetishism and murder-and a scathing look at the burgeoning French fascism of the era.« less
"Second movie of spanish director Luis Bunuel to have the honour to enter the most praised Criterion DVD collection after THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE a few weeks ago, DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID is presented in a perfect widescreen black and white copy with a well-balanced sound. As bonus features, you will enjoy a theatrical trailer, a printed interview of Luis Bunuel and a 25 minutes interview of screenplay writer Jean-Claude Carrière who wrote or co-wrote some of the most important movies of the last thirty years. Adapted from a novel of Octave Mirbeau, DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID was directed in 1964 by a Luis Bunuel already sanctified by two generations of movie lovers. French actor Michel Piccoli replaces the bunuelian Fernando Rey in the role of a member of the bourgeoisie slightly decadent and ridiculous. Jeanne Moreau (Jules and Jim), as the chambermaid, is a young woman coming from Paris and discovering what is like to live in the "deep" France of the early thirties. DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID can not be classified in any specific genre. It's a comedy yes, but with a very serious murder in the middle of the story. It's a detective story yes, but with harsch political critiques. In fact, it's simply a Luis Bunuel movie with his unique personal world impregnating a novel he admired from his childhood on. Highly recommended. A DVD zone your library."
A dark comedy of brilliance
Dennis Littrell | SoCal | 09/15/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is my favorite Buñel film. The story is stunningly presented, an absolute work of art, unbelievably subtle but always concrete. It is like a great symphony: every note is perfect.Surprisingly (considering the title) Le journal d'une femme de chambre is not about sex, nor is it a journal for that matter. It is about politics, sexual politics of course, but also domestic politics, manor politics, and nation-state politics. The time is the thirties as fascism moves toward its mesmerizing stranglehold on a decadent Europe. The place is France (Normandy, I imagine) where the republicans hold power. In the streets are those who would be brown suits and among them is Joseph (Georges Geret), groundskeeper for a petite bourgeois family of degenerate eccentrics. He is an incipient Nazi, a xenophobic anti-Semitic man who worships brute force, an ignorant man that every French movie-goer knows will be a Nazi-collaborator once France is under the occupation.The story is seen from the point of view of Celestine, a chambermaid of some sophistication (and an abiding, but understandable duplicity), a Parisian who has come to work for the family in the country. She is played by the incomparable Jeanne Moreau of the plastic face, a woman of many guises, many moods and an ability to depict with a glance any emotion. She is a great star of the French stage and screen who plays the part effortlessly, with finesse and a fine subtlety. The screenplay by Buñel and the brilliant Jean-Claude Carriere (who penned so many outstanding films, Bell de Jour (1967), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), Valmont (1989), The Ogre (1996), etc.) is an adaptation of the novel by Octave Mirbeau. There is a Hollywood film of the same name starring Paulette Goddard, Burgess Meredith and Judith Anderson, directed by Jean Renoir that I haven't seen, released in 1946. I understand the treatment was more comedic and conventional.Surrealist Luis Buñel's film is perhaps best described as a comédie noire, a genre antecedent to the familiar (and somewhat similar) film noir. In the latter the comedy is usually incidental and there is no attempt at any great philosophic or symbolic significance. Here Buñel not only makes a statement about the nature of the relationship between bourgeois Europe in the thirties and fascism, but even delves into the primeval nature of women and gives us a sharp look at a woman's place in bourgeois society. Celestine is duplicitous because she has to be to survive. She uses men the way the society uses her.Be sure and pay close attention to the final scene inside and outside the café and consider the implications of what is being shown. What is being suggested? Will Joseph finally get the punishment he so richly deserves? Or did Celestine make the choice she made out of fear? Is the union between Joseph and Celestine symbolic of that between the fascists and Europe?For those interested in this last theme I highly recommend Vittoria De Sica's brilliant The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1971)."
Expect the unexpected
albemuth | 06/04/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Bunuel was a restless director and this, the second adaptation of Octave Mirbeau's classic novel, is yet another example of his mastery over his chosen medium. Bunuel takes liberties with the novel, adapting it to suit his interests: he changes the setting to France of the 1930s, allowing for the opportunity to tie the rise of nationalism and anti-semitism to the decadence of the bourgeoisie, which he tackles with obvious relish. The film is funny and scathing at the same time, relentlessly pursuing its own agenda to the delight and probable perplexion of the viewer. This is one of the most accessible of Bunuel's late films, which isn't to say it's better or worse than the rest - it's just a bit different in its use of more traditional modes of storytelling. He asks the viewer questions and when you think he's giving the answer you'll find the rug swiftly pulled from under your feet with the delight of a born prankster. He is, of course, much more than that but one of the many pleasures his work offers is the entertaining (and complete) control he has over the content, the unseen hand you feel expertly guiding the film to its effective conclusion. Entertaining, thoughtful and with another wonderful performance by Jeanne Moreau, this is an easy introduction to Bunuel's oeuvre. "Mystery is the essential element in every work of art." -Luis Bunuel"
The gem in my DVD collection
SEP | Texas | 06/28/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Diary of a Chambermaid is Luis Brunuel's masterpiece. Though it satirizes countless aspects of French society during the years leading up to WWII (1930, to be precise), includes several intriguing character studies, and carries off a complex plot, it still manages to captivate. Though there is an obvious political statement about fascism, Brunuel seems to have been more intent on showcasing the complacent attitudes of the bourgeoisie that allowed Europe to crumble into the throes of war.Jeanne Moreau is Celestine, a beautiful Parisian chambermaid to moves to the Normandy countryside to work in the home of the wealthy Monteil family. The cast of characters she discovers there are laughable. The family patriarch, Monsieur Rabour, has a foot fetish (with which Celestine has no choice but to comply); his daughter is a frigid woman who cares about nothing more than her imported goodies (and her unvaluables too: she counts sugar cubes to make sure the staff hasn't been stealing); her husband is an amourous fiend who seeks moments of "amour fou" (mad love) with Celestine. Even Celestine's fellow servant-types have their quirks, except not so funny. Joseph, the groundskeeper, is a ruthless racist and sadist who denounces "kikes and wops," tortures animals and rapes and murders a child of whom Celestine was fond. All the while, he is active in a right-winged Facist movement to rid France of foreigners and destroy the republic. It is the murder of young Claire, and her desire to see justice done, that keeps Celestine at the Monteil estate after her master dies (clutching a pair of shoes, no less). She quickly focuses on Joseph. She accuses him directly but fails to get a confession--though he didn't deny the act, either. There's only one problem: Celestine is forced to fight a sexual attraction to Joseph. In the end, she uses sex as her last shot at extracting a confession.This film does not end with justice; nor does Celestine remain a character of moral fiber. In the film's last scene, with Celestine having just proven herself to be the ultimate opportunist, the countrymen are marching through the streets toward right-wing brutality and fascism.From beginning to end, The Diary of a Chambermaid is an amusing look at everything Luis Brunuel apparently hated: the bourgeoisie, complacency, fascism, Catholic (pay attention to the scene in which Madame Monteil asks the priest how to cope with her husband's advances), and the goverment. This isn't knee-slapping funny, but a small slice of wisdom served up in black and white."
Gorgeous transfer of a compelling work.
Aaron Stigberg | Chicago, IL United States | 06/04/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a thought-provoking work, ripe with intriguing ambiguity, in which Bunuel deftly employs absurdity, realism, and melodrama to comment on the self-serving politics and morality of the bourgeoisie and of those who aspire to join it.The VHS transfer is quite nice, doing justice to the lush Franscope cinematography. The subtitles are crisp and easy to read. Until the DVD comes along (supposedly quite soon), this would be a fine addition to anyone's collection."