Diary of a Chambermaid

Moreau plays Celestine, the chambermaid of the title, whose role in the bourgeois household to which she is appointed becomes that of both observer and catalyst for the dormant tensions within. When Jean Renoir filmed Octave Mirbeau’s novel in Hollywood in 1945, he set the action
on the centenary of the French Revolution and thus gave the revolt of the servant classes against their masters an intimation of joy and affirmation shining through the despair. Part of the darker colouring of Luis Buñuel’s adaptation stems from his setting the tale in the late 1920s, where its brutality, casual violence and frank injustices seem to be harbingers of the violence to come. Unlike Renoir, Buñuel is equally critical of the servant classes, and the most complex relationship in the film is that between Celestine and the gamekeeper, Joseph.
Celestine knows how to get on upstairs, how to manipulate her masters and calculate where the power lies, but the real concern in the second part of the film is her attempt to incriminate the gamekeeper, whom she suspects has raped and killed a little girl. Celestine is a schemer but she also has a rough sense of justice. Moreau is at her most magnificent in the role, and her performance is matched all the way by Georges Geret’s splendid turn as Joseph.
France-Italy, 1963. English subtitles. Black and white. Anamorphic. 98 mins.

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