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Melanie Dante, « The Chambermaid – Mirbeau to Buñuel »

Melanie Dante, « The Chambermaid – Mirbeau to Buñuel »

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Published by Oktavas

Study about Mirbeau's novel, "Le Journal d'une femme de chambre", and its adaptations by Jean Renoir and Luis Buñuel.

Study about Mirbeau's novel, "Le Journal d'une femme de chambre", and its adaptations by Jean Renoir and Luis Buñuel.

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Published by: Oktavas on Feb 19, 2013
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09/17/2013

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Melanie DANTE
The Chambermaid 
 Mirbeau to Buñuel
(c) 2009 M. Dante / Black Dahlia Creative - Revised 2011
Published in 1900 under the title
Le Journal d`une femme dechambre
,
The Chambemaid
is anarchist Octave Mirbeau's scandalous taleof a Parisian maid employed in a bourgeoisie country home. It soundsfairly simple a plot, though truly it puts Wisteria Lane to shame. HarperCollins introduced the vintage tale to the American public in 2007.
Normality impoverishes while deviancy enriches, offering a plethoraof improvisational possibilities
. Robert ZieglerSeptember 1964 Buñuel's
The Chambermaid
premiered at the New YorkFilm Festival. In his review for the
New York Times
, film critic EugeneArcher laments, « Sadly, the intervening decades seem to have weakenedMr. Buñuel's powers. His new adaptation of Octave Mirbeau's
The Diary of a Chambermaid
suffers in comparison with the strange but memorableversion Jean Renoir did with Paulette Goddard in 1946. » Archercontinues, complimenting the popular Jeanne Moreau, then remarking onthe directors use of the appealing actress, « It seems an ungrateful way totreat a brilliant star whose subtly modulated acting gives meaning to anunresolved and ambiguous script ».
The Diary of Chambermaid
is clear and precise in its scathing socialcommentary of late 19th century class struggle dividing the nobles,aristocracy, bourgeois and the peasant class as told through the diaries of a common petite proletariat, Celestine. The daughter of abusive drunkardwho died when she was young, Celestine matured devoid of both love andstability. She is fascinated by experience and emotion, devoid of fear of consequence or situation. At an equally early age she becomes an agencychambermaid. In each household she emanates the perfected persona of that which is expected, and in each household bizarre, cold, yet humorousintimacies abound. Celestine is polite, yet with the passing of eachhousehold position she becomes more and more empty behind her placidmask. Celestine is, to quote the novel, Originating no where. Belonging no
 
where.; she is only of the moment we view her and her escapades, devoidof all relevant societal identity and status. Fans of Octave Mirbeau willappreciate the story for his signature style of grandiose prose andscathing social commentary. The sordid tale begins with Celestine entering into a new position atthe provincial country home of the Lanlaire (Monteils in Buñuel's film)family. It is there that Celestine begins a diary of her past and presentexperiences. The primary tale is of her-day-to-day life with the Lanlaires,the household servants and neighbors, the retired Captain Mauger andhis servant-wife Rose. Her diaries offer hysterical, cynical commentary of the continuous barrage of sexual advances and violent assaults to hersense of class and culture. Originally Mirbeau stated that the book waswritten by an actual anonymous chambermaid of the day, and that he onlypolished the tale to make it marketable; a rumor the literary publicenthusiastically believed at the time of first press. The French publicadored the deviant chambermaid!“ I am no saint », writes Celestine, « I have known many men, and Iknowby experience, all the madness, all the vileness of which they arecapable ... ! »Famous to the story and also the film, the elder patriarch of Celestine's newly assigned position has a secret – or not so secret – footfetish. As the Lanlaire carriageman and groundsman, Joseph, deliversCelestine to the house, he comments on the ride from the station thatCelestine best have many shoes. She thinks him simple minded andcountry rogue, not realizing he is slyly revealing part of her householdrole. The aging Mr. Rabour immediately names Celestine ~Marie~, whichis shorter and more to his liking, and despite the household having to goby stocking feet, he has her walk around in high-heeled leather boots,which he decides he is to polish to perfection each night at the end of herservice. Ziegler describes this famous series of scenes withpsychoanalytical precision, ~ Rabour is a textbook example of a fetishistdriven by mutilation anxiety. Unwilling, Freud says, to relinquish ~ hisbelief that women have a phallus ~ Rabour's castration fears may beamplified by the prospect of losing the mother altogether, creating anabsence filled by the servant with her versatile identity. Ziegler adds thatthe polishing of the shoe was – most obviously – equal to masturbation!Ah, do the bourgeois actually do such things? In vastly different ways,
 
both Mirbeau and Buñuel are viciously famous for contemplating what theaffluent and moral do not do and do (when they believe no one else willknow). The kindly Rabour's fetish comes to an early end when he is founddead in his bed. In Buñuel's film version he is locked in his room, on hisback, gingerly holding the boot in his hands. In the novel it is a tensescene where, his jaw, set in rigor mortis will not let go of the boot jammeddeep into his mouth, which Celestine must aggressively tear loose beforeRabour's frigid daughter and flirty son-in-law, or the other householdservants of the Lanlaire family discover the bizarre and scandalousmystery of attraction. So begins our adventures with the aging ingenueCelestine as she shares the guilty secrets of her past employers; and alsoas she unknowingly prepares to embrace an unexpected evolution fromservant to Madame inspired by her concupiscence attraction for Joseph.Both novel and film address issues of radical , if not virulent,nationalism, fascism, class ism, anti-Semitism leading up to the FirstWorld War, along with the separation of intention between fetishbehavior, and child rape or murder; however, the comic shock of theboot in the dead man's hand/mouth remains the vintage cinema's mostnoted claim to fame. The quiet black and white film does not convey theDanielle Steele style steamy and sexy story mixed with scathing socialcommentary which shocked and titillated the publication's originalaudience. "Diary" is a scandalous, sexual, mad adventure that is almostall but lost in Buñuel's political dry film, and though Renoir attempted toshow the folly of escapades, he too fell shy of Mirbeau's original success.Fair to the intent of the director, Buñuel chose to focus on the issuesof nationalism and anti-Semitism the novel addresses as a result of thepolitically scandalous Dreyfus Affair, though in the film it is to keep thefocus of political interest on Joseph, with Celestine being somewhatperipheral and pure. She is the symbol of good despite situation andcircumstance. Even the rape of a young peasant girl, which in the story iswhat attracts Celestine to Joseph with subservient fascination, is alteredto accommodate the political feel of the film, as opposed to erotic powerexchange on its most raw and brute level as presented in the originaltale.In Buñuel's film Celestine tired of the pathetic folly of thehousehold – is going to return to the city, yet the murder of little Claire istoo upsetting. She knows Joseph is the murderer after watching in shock

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