Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Third time lucky: Benoît Jacquot's DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID is the best of the lot so far

Better than Buñuel's with Jeanne Moreau? Better than Renoir's with Paulette Goddard? Yes -- in that this newest version of DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID, directed (and co-adapted with Hélène Zimmer) by Benoît Jacquot, seems to TrustMovies to be truer in spirit, if not entirely in the letter, to its source material, the novel by Octave Mirbeau. The Buñuel seemed more Buñuel than Mirbeau in many ways, while the Renoir was perhaps a tad too Hollywood (well, it was made there).

The Renoir also appeared at a time -- 1946 -- when American movies could not begin to show us anything approaching real life, even under the French hand of that master. Both films, even if they reflect their makers more than Mirbeau, do hold up quite well today. As much as I liked Jacquot's new version, I find myself wondering if it will hold up as well 50 or 70 years hence. (You may be able to determine this, but I won't.)

In any case, M. Jacquot, shown at left, has given us a movie in which everything -- from the sets and costumes to the incidents and characterizations -- ring true. In the chambermaid role has been cast one of France's finest and most versatile young actors, Léa Seydoux, who can now add this landmark to her exceedingly diverse resume which ranges from Bond girl to arthouse fave. Ms Seydoux, shown above and below, does not disappoint. She makes her character of Célestine by turns angry, loving, prideful, inquiring, hurt, strong, weak -- and always real.

By the end of this relatively short movie, we understand her perhaps as well as we possibly can (and better, I think, than we understand the Célestines played by Goddard and Moreau). Yes, it's fine to leave something to the imagination and the mysterious, but how wonderful it is to enter the life and mind of a character this completely. Seydoux and Jacquot make it possible.

The supporting cast is crackerjack, as well, with the most unusual work being done by that great French everyman, Vincent Lindon (above and only recently seen in The Measure of a Man). Here, as the groundskeeper, Joseph, Lindon plays a character quite different from his usual -- powerful, frightening, sexual and shockingly anti-Semitic -- as he tilts our Célestine, as well as the movie, toward the dark side,

But, again, Ms Seydoux makes the transition fully understandable, believable and sad. We see her not simply with the stupid and lecherous husband and nasty wife at whose home in the provinces she works, but also, in flashback, at other employ, particularly tending to a tubercular young man (Vincent Lacoste, above, right) who is being cared for by his kindly grandmother. We see her flirting with the prospect of employ at a bordello, and especially in the push-and-pull of a tricky and difficult relationship with her employment agent (very well performed by Dominique Reymond).

With each new situation, we see a new side of Célestine, how she behaves and thinks, and by the finale, all these allow the character to grow and deepen into a kind of progressive reality movies are seldom able to furnish. This chambermaid and her diary should stick with you long after the end credits have rolled.

From Cohen Media Group and running just 95 minutes, the movie opens this Friday in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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