Cinema Review: Diary of a Chambermaid | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Diary of a Chambermaid

Studio: Cohen Media Group
Directed by Benoit Jacquot

Jun 10, 2016 Web Exclusive
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Célestine is a chambermaid, a servant, in turn-of-the-century France. At the outset, she is sent off to the rural provinces as what seems like punishment for past digressions. The familiarity between boss and employee suggests right away that this is not the first time Célestine has needed relocation. As Célestine, Lea Seydoux plays her with cynical, dry eyes. This version of the woman is not happy with her place in the world and nearly talks her way out of the job until the realization that she needs money to survive sets in. Even in a world where survival may not be appealing, it ends up being the only thing she can do.

So she goes, and it is about as pleasant as one might expect. The matron of the house is a demanding, abusive lady whose tactics as an employer involve draining the will to fight out of employees. In an early scene, after Célestine has dawdled a few times at tasks assigned to her, Madame Lanlaire makes her run up and down a large set of stairs to retrieve first a needle, then thread when she returned and again until Célestine is panting and exhausted. And so it continues. The narrative thrust features a series of small scenes where Célestine endures the abuses of Madame Lanlaire, resists the sexual advances of Monsieur Lanlaire, and hopes for an escape. All the while, flashbacks to previous placements fill in the blanks of who Célestine might be.

And it all feels unfinished. What should be a large turning point in the film ends up fast forwarding everything to a rushed and untimely conclusion. There is something to be said about a film leaving the audience wanting more, but Diary of a Chambermaid ends at what ostensibly should be the intermission. Even with the flashbacks, however, Célestine isn’t particularly interesting. The flashbacks show a former sense of humour and a tragic love but it comes off like crib notes. These scenes are there by necessity. Puzzle pieces.

Diary of a Chambermaid is frustrating because it sets up interesting narrative threads, and all are abandoned as soon as the end credits roll. It is like Jacquot and company took the least interesting part of a novel (note, I have not read the novel the film is based on) and adapted it while ignoring the aftermath and climax. Its strengths lie very much with its pastoral imagery and Bruno Coulais’ moody and dark score. It is all the more disappointing because the potential on display suggests a good film is on display. Diary of a Chambermaid would make a decent first act to a television miniseries. As a film, it ends in an unfortunate whimper.

Author rating: 4/10

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Average reader rating: 4/10


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jim Jarmush
October 12th 2018

Celestine is a chambermaid, and what would first seem a simple   diary of a maid service bethesda turns out to be a deep dive into human nature and its shortcomings. Given how unsympathetically the film portrays these rich narcissists in the first section, it’s surprising the director expects us to care about them now. They’re certainly never developed into noir-worthy antiheroes from maid service Bethesda whose desperation becomes compelling for its own sake, nor do a couple of scenes of Brandon’s moody remorse convince us to take an interest in his future.