13 December 2017

STUDIOCANAL PRESENTS: LUIS BUNUEL'S 'DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID.' (1964) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.




THE DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID aka LE JOURNAL D'UNE FEMME DE CHAMBRE. (1964) BASED ON THE NOVEL OF THE SAME NAME BY OCTAVE MIRBEAU. DIRECTED BY LUIS BUNUEL. STARRING JEANNE MOREAU AND MICHEL PICCOLI.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a fabulous film. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's not just a great juicy sex scandal movie, although those bits were brilliant, of course, lol. It's a beautifully shot black-and-white movie set in 1930s France, but behind the glimmering faรงade of genteel country life lies a seedy and unexpected underbelly of burgeoning fascism and general xenophobia.

Ah, General Xenophobia, remember him? Much-decorated military hero, did a lot for charity in his twilight years, all-round good guy, haha. Anyway, let's have a look at the film's plot and see what the story is here.

The stunningly beautiful Jeanne Moreau (JULES ET JIM, ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS) plays Celestine, a young-ish woman (early thirties, that's young-ISH, isn't it...?) who when we meet her is just arriving at the rich Monteil household, in a fairly rural area of France, to take up a position as a chambermaid.

The word 'chambermaid' implies bedrooms, doesn't it, but Celestine seems to work anywhere in the house that she's needed or wanted. The mistress, Madame Monteil, is a rather cold, dry woman obsessed with the fussy fixtures and fittings of her elaborate mansion house, but her marriage is a deeply unhappy one so we feel sympathy for her rather than dislike.

She controls the purse-strings because it's her old father's home, so it's obvious that Madame Monteil's husband is the one who married into money and not the other way around. Her philandering husband is a weak-chinned naughty boy with a penchant for impregnating the female help, and Mrs. Monteil has had to shell out money in the past to pay for his indiscretions. No wonder she's unhappy, the poor woman. That kind of marriage is no fun.

Mr. Monteil, a rather lily-livered, ineffectual sort of fellow, loses no time in putting his mucky paws on Celestine. But Celestine is a chic and knowing Parisienne who's been around the block a few times and she has little difficulty in keeping the randy aristocrat at arm's length with a sexy blend of teasing and berating which, in French, sounds incredibly sensuous and inviting. Pah, merde, lol...!

Mrs. Monteil's elderly Pops is the owner and real ruler of the house, and he immediately puts the moves on Celestine, whom he insists on calling Marie because he 'calls all the chambermaids Marie.' Huh. The things you get to do when you're stinking bloody rich. Wish I was stinking bloody rich. The things I'd do...

Anyway, the old Mr. Monteil has a naughty fetish but cool your jets, it's only a common or garden fetish, an ordinary old foot fetish, lol, and not something more interesting, something so sick and twisted that we dare not even talk about it here, haha. Like washed-up actor Troy McClure's fish fetish in THE SIMPSONS...! 

The old man likes to feel Celestine's legs while she reads aloud to him and he has a cupboard full of 'dear little boots' which he likes her to try on and walk about in. Celestine has clearly encountered mens' weird little needs before and this auld fella's kinky nonsense even bores her slightly, she's so unfazed by it, even when he starts cleaning the boots. No, not with his tongue, ye filthy feckers, lol.

I remember scenes like that, donkeys' years ago, in a television series about prostitutes called BAND OF GOLD starring Barbara Dickson, Geraldine James, Samantha Morton and Cathy Tyson. The guy who used to play Jarvis Skelton in rural soap opera EMMERDALE, formerly EMMERDALE FARM (God be with the days!) was a client (in prostitution, a customer is called a 'john...!') of Cathy Tyson's prostitute character, and he used to pay her big bucks to 'walk' for him in her black stockings and high heels. Eventually, I think she freaked out and poured a kettle of boiling water over his goolies, but the main thing I remember was the foot-and-shoe fetish.

The next-door neighbour of the Monteils', a burly, rather charmless fellow, has the hots for Celestine also, even though he already has a bed-warmer and chief cook and bottle-washer of
his own. He startlingly proposes marriage to Celestine and, as he's rich too, he's got to be a contender for the chambermaid's affections. She'd be the Monteils' neighbour and could mix in the same snooty circles as her former employers. That'd show 'em, those snobby toffs.

Joseph, the Monteils' sort of caretaker-gardener-groundskeeper with strong anti-foreigner political leanings and rough, loutish manners, falls head-over-heels in love with Celestine, who rejects him at first. But Celestine is clearly the kind of woman who needs a real man in her bed and Joseph is, at least, a real man, unlike her employer's husband, a kept man, and her employer's father, Mr. Kinky-Foot-And-Shoe-Fetish.

They couple urgently, Celestine and Joseph, and they even make plans for a joint future, but then Joseph is accused of a crime, possibly the worst kind of crime you can imagine. The gendarmerie come for him and Celestine is left alone to ponder her options...

I can't tell you what the crime is but there's an image in the film which, once seen, you'll never forget it. Just one image, when you see it you'll know what I mean. I'd love to be able to use it to accompany this post but it'd be too strong to actually put on social media. It has a shocking beauty to it in a way but also an even more shocking truth. Luis Bunuel, the master of the unforgettable image. Never mind 'Rosebud,' let me whisper one word to you and the word is simply... escargot...

The anti-Semitic feeling in France at the time is portrayed unflinchingly in the film. The people are marching on the streets in protest marches, shouting 'France For The French!' and 'Foreigners Out!' and other xenophobic slogans that would chill your blood.

The thing is, it's France we're talking about here and not Nazi Germany, so it's kind of alarming to see the Jew-hating and even Jew-killing going on elsewhere as well. Joseph the groundskeeper, when hearing about the deaths of, I think it's twelve, Jews somewhere in Europe, even comments that 'that's twelve less Jews in the world, anyway.' Well, I guess we all know where that's going but it's still hard and painful to watch it.

I love the bit where Mrs. Monteil is feeding the priest up with cake before confessing to him that she's unable to satisfy the voracious sexual needs of her husband, who likes to have sex twice weekly, the dirty feckin' beast. The horrified priest thinks that twice is way too much, lol, but that's not the bit I wanted to draw to your attention.

The relationship between Mrs. Monteil and her priest reminded me immediately of that between Carmela Soprano and her Father Confessor Phil Intintola in THE SOPRANOS. I miss THE SOPRANOS so much. It was the Grand-Daddy of the box-set television series and I don't care what anyone else says. Stuff your GAME OF THRONES and your WALKING DEAD. I know whereof I speak.

Anyway, when Tony the husband was out of the house, Father Phil would call round to watch DVDs on Tony's superior home entertainment system and wolf down Carmela's excellent home cooking, letting Carmela tell him all her little secrets and getting, as Carmela put it, just 'the whiff of sensuality' from being around her without having to commit himself further.

Keeping himself safe and inured from commitment, in other words, but still enjoying all the perks of being a tolerably good-looking young male priest in a parish where it's mainly the middle-aged, rich but unhappily married women with whom he'd mostly be engaging.

They'd be falling over themselves in THE SOPRANOS to feed and entertain the sleazy padre and even give him expensive gifts of jewellery which he never should have accepted. If his Bishop knew what he was getting up to in his parish...

Anyway, Jeanne Moreau has the most beautiful face, with eyes and a mouth to die for. It's not flashy, obvious beauty like, say, Brigitte Bardot's whose every photograph just screams 'LE SEXE!,' but there's a mobile and expressive sensuality there that the actresses of today probably couldn't achieve if they lived to be a hundred-and-one. Well, maybe Penelope Cruz. She's a little knockout, so she is.

THE DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID, a fantastic French language film, forms part of a seven-film box-set of movies by Luis Bunuel. It's available to buy now from STUDIOCANAL as part of their VINTAGE WORLD CINEMA series. The other five films are as follows:

BELLE DE JOUR: THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION.
TRISTANA.
THE MILKY WAY.
THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE.
PHANTOM OF LIBERTY.
THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE.
Enjoy!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:


http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com







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