Bunuel made Diary of a Chambermaid at a phase when he was churning out one masterpiece after another; consequently it is easy for some of them to be overlooked despite being gems. This, the first film after his return to France in what can be classified as the last third of his filmmaking career, remains a sterling example of that. Loosely adapted from Octave Mirbeau’s novel of the same name, which Renoir too had adapted a couple of decades back, this was a brilliant, understated and wryly satirical exploration of class differences in a wealthy, cocooned suburban mansion – the kind made famous by Renoir in La Regle du Jeu, with the rise of fascism in France providing a key backdrop. It begins with Celestine (Jeanne Moreau), a highly alluring Parisian lady who’s well aware of the effect she has on the men around her, arriving at Normandy in order to work as a chambermaid. The men in the house, viz. the suave and fetishistic old patron (Jean Ozenne), his cuckolded son-in-law (Michel Piccoli), the Right-Wing and anti-Semitic carriage driver (Georges Geret), and the aged neighbor – all become, at various levels, aroused by her presence, while the frigid lady of the house starts despising her on account of the obvious sexual politics. And then a bizarre crime takes place that makes the atmosphere further charged, and that forces the ambitious Celestine to embark on a dangerous game of one-upmanship with the people around her. This sly, disturbing, and brilliantly enacted work was filled to brim with the kind of droll humour, grotesque sexual undertones and caustic socio-political observations that were quintessentially Bunuelesque.
Director: Luis Bunuel
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Social Satire