Diary of a Chambermaid

Diary of a Chambermaid (1964)

Directed by Luis Bunuel

(Jeanne Moreau, Michel Piccoli, Georges Geret, Francoise Lugagne)



Diary of a Chambermaid isn’t your typical Bunuel film – it actually makes sense. Luis Bunuel, the Spanish director known for his pioneering work in Surrealist cinema, made it a point to reject coherence in his movies. Highly remembered for the 1928 short film Un Chien Andalou, Bunuel’s graphic eyeball-slicing shot never ceases to churn the stomachs of even the staunchest film major.

Chambermaid shows another side to the director, which, unfortunately, is less than exciting. The film introduces an ensemble of quirky characters through the eyes of Celestine (Jeanne Moreau), a new Parisian maid hired to the bourgeois country estate of the Monteil family.

Monsieur Rabour (Jean Ozenne) has a shoe fetish. Monsieur Monteil (Michel Piccoli) hunts anything that moves (even butterflies aren’t safe), and puts the moves on Celestine and the rest of the hired help. Madame Monteil (Francoise Lugagne) is too busy warning Celestine not to break any of the priceless heirlooms that fill the mansion to fulfill her husbands prowess. The other hired help is quick to warn Celestine of the fates of most maids. “If Madame doesn’t fire them, Monsieur gets them pregnant.”

Jeanne Moreau, best known for her role as Catherine in Francois Truffaut’s 1961 classic Jules et Jim, creates an enigmatic character in Celestine, but the rest of the characters are merely defined through their eccentric traits. These same traits provide Chambermaid with only a few isolated moments of Bunuel’s wonderfully wry sense of humor seen prominently in his documentary-meets-dark-comedy Land Without Bread.

Though the elements of a juicy and scandalous story seem to be in place, Bunuel appears to be out of his element directing a film with a rational narrative. Through the ideological outbursts of Joseph (Georges Geret), the groundskeeper, Bunuel comments on the rise of Fascism in the 1930s, but treats it as somewhat of an afterthought.

The film’s initial insanity shows promise in the beginning, but its climax rolls around much too late, leading to a weak ending. The predictable finale proves that Bunuel’s creative talent is better suited for the abstract than the sensible.

-Marina Agerter


Diary of a Chambermaid opens today and runs through July 26 at the Oak Street Cinema.