A handsome adaptation of Mirbeau’s novel, Benoît Jacquot’s Diary Of A Chambermaid is a vibrant celebration of fin-de-siècle style.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisieby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
It’s a strange thing that directors keep returning to Octave Mirbeau’s original story time and time again. First there was Jean Renoir and then Luis Buñuel and now Benoît Jacquot is trying his hand at the racy upstairs-downstairs conflict in the French provinces. Perhaps it’s the saucy licentiousness of a domestic that endures, or the lampooning of the countryside’s upper classes that prevails – it’s not without some revolutionary zeal that M. Joseph (Vincent Lindon) and Célestine (Léa Seydoux) make off with their masters’ silver in order to become masters of their own destiny in a little café of their own overlooking the port of Le Havre. But above all, Jacquot’s Diary Of A Chambermaid is a handsome piece, with its beautiful coiffes, costumes and sets as well as a series of shots that seem to come straight out of the Musée d’Orsay – Célestine’s fantasy of her future life behind the bar in particular recalling Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. Flashing back to scenes of Célestine’s previous domestic engagements, Jacquot ups the ante with the eroticism of the chambermaid’s story – from her mistress’ dildo exposed on a station platform to the elderly Madame of Parisian’s high society eager to recruit the young beauty, and there’s George – a sickly adolescent taking the air on the Normandy Coast only to die mid-coitus when Célestine finally gives in to one of her many male admirers. Dotted with knowing asides and half-uttered insults, Benoît Jacquot’s Diary Of A Chambermaid is a beautiful and occasionally tender evocation of a smart girl weaving her way through the foibles of the upper classes to get ahead. It’s no doubt a handsome adaptation, but like its charming heroine in her Parisian dresses, perhaps not quite so superior as it thinks it is.
Diary Of A Chambermaid is now showing at the 65th Berlin Film Festival