Backlog #20: The Diary of a Chambermaid (1964)

One of the first films that I watched from this list; one that I surprisingly remember quite clearly. I mentioned two days ago that I couldn’t place Bunuel; this film seems to be a satire encompassing provincial French life, extremist politics, militarism, all kinds of sex, making a living, child abuse – many things.

The plot is quite unobtrusive and the story winds its way gently along; mainly through the eyes of Celestine, the title character. She arrives as a lamb to the slaughter, but soon we understand her as a redeeming figure, a Mary Poppins type possibly. However the universe she enters at the start of the film we’ll see to be quite beyond redemption: self-absorbed, venal, immoral and macabre. Celestine is a very intelligent character (and Jeanne Moreau is understatedly brilliant) and after making an attempt for domination, realizes that there’s nothing here for her. Until, the horror of the young child’s murder is the motivation she needs to try and win. Even though she is ultimately successful, she realizes that she cannot remain at war and puts her sword away and settles down.

All of this is done understatedly – we can’t spot Bunuel’s hand at all, we see no tricks or strings, things seem to be very mundane. But when one reflects on what the film is doing and what it is saying, it is extremely powerful.


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