Diary of a Chambermaid

| October 3, 2016

When Célestine (Léa Seydoux; Spectre) gets a new chambermaid position in the French countryside working for a horrible lady (Clotilde Mollet) and her grabby husband (Hervé Pierre), she is pretty miserable.  But, with her family gone and no life to speak of beyond moving from cleaning house to house, she decides to make the best of things by quietly taking her harassment and not ruffling any feathers while she does her job to the best of her ability.

I kept waiting for things to go a different way in this film.  The cover has a quote from The New York Times saying, “Seydoux is as beautiful and seductive as she has ever been onscreen,” and I thought that’s weird because it doesn’t mention anything about her talent as an actress.  But, it did give me the sense that her character was sooner or later going to use her sex appeal to start manipulating the man of the house or other men around town to get what she wants.  Not the most original or interesting story, but I waited to see how things would play out.  What I guess is even worse is Seydoux’s submission to the estate’s butler Mr. Joseph (Vincent Lindon) and his plot to rob the house they work in and run off to possibly start a brothel together.  That was never fully made clear to me.

To the movie’s credit, once I knew this was the story, I was immediately more interested in how things were going to play out, but this primary storyline doesn’t come into play until way late in the film and then as I was getting interested in what was going to happen with these characters, it just ends.  I don’t know if it’s a French thing to start your movie so long before any inciting incident and then stop before you see how things resolve, but it was an uncomfortable experience for me.

Also uncomfortable was how every man in this movie was, at any given moment, at most 20 seconds away from raping Célestine.  I get it, she’s a very attractive woman, and maybe her refusal to flirt or show the slightest emotion is irresistible to all French men universally, but I didn’t get how her mere presence would send any and every man into hysterics trying to sleep with her.  I’ve seen Seydoux in a few films now, and I’m starting to think she’s just not a very good actress.

Overall, I can’t recommend this movie.  I felt it was slow, but not in an effective slow-burn western type of way.  It just didn’t seem to know where to start or stop effectively, and the random flashbacks to Célestine working in other houses along the way seemed to have little to no thematic significance on the main plot.  Apparently this story has been told a few times over the years, getting career-defining performances from other now famous actresses, but it really did nothing for me.  Also, it just occurred to me that the chambermaid doesn’t even keep a diary in the film.  What’s with that?

Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Cohen Media Group on October 4.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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