Diary of a Chambermaid (Umbrella) (1964)

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Released 2-May-2018

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1964
Running Time 93:45
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Luis Buñuel
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Jeanne Moreau
Georges Géret
Daniel Ivernel
Françoise Lugagne
Muni
Jean Ozenne
Michel Piccoli
Joëlle Bernard
Françoise Bertin
Aline Bertrand
Pierre Collet
Michel Dacquid
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI ? Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None French Dolby Digital 2.0 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     It is the 1930s and fascism and anti-Semitism are rife in France as Celestine (Jeanne Moreau) catches a train from Paris to take up a position as chambermaid in a bourgeois family in an estate in a small town in Normandy. There Celestine quickly discovers the perversions and desires of the family members. The elderly patriarch M. Rabour (Jean Ozenne) has a shoe and calf (as in female leg) fetish and cannot stand dirt, his daughter Mme Monteil (Francoise Lugagne) is obsessive about tidiness and doles out money to her husband while refusing to have sex (for medical reasons) while her husband M Monteil (Michel Piccoli) takes out his frustration by hunting animals and any woman who enters his sphere of influence. At the same time he is feuding with his neighbour Captain Mauger (Daniel Invernel) who delights in throwing rubbish over the fence into Monteil’s garden. Servant and driver Joseph (Georges Geret) is fanatically right wing and anti-Semitic, with rather too great an interest in the neighbour’s pre-teen child Claire. The only one who tries to be a friend to Celestine is kitchen maid Marianne (Muni). Then in one day the house is turned on its head when M Rabour dies and Claire is raped and murdered in the woods. Celestine is convinced the murderer is Joseph (with good reason) and is prepared to go to any length to prove it.

     Diary of a Chambermaid (Le journal d’une femme de chambre) is directed by Luis Bunuel based on the 1900s novel of the same name by Octave Mirbeau. As far as I can tell the novel has been filmed three times; the first an English language version by Jean Renoir in 1946 which starred Paulette Goddard, this version by Bunuel and another French version in 2015 which returns the setting to the early 1900s as in the novel. However Bunuel, by setting his film in the 1930s, is able to bring in the rise of fascism and the anti-Semitism of the time plus the hypocrisy, bigotry and sexual predatory behaviour of his bourgeois characters.

     Celestine is an outsider and we are never told why she left Paris for the backblocks of Normandy. She is by no means an innocent but is clearly an experienced, manipulative woman, knowing how to use her effect on men, indeed all the men in the film, to get what she wants. In this world of hypocrisy, innocence is no security; the young girl Claire is raped and murdered and the simple servant Marianne falls prey to M Monteil’s desires. And yet, with Bunuel’s brilliant closing sequence, we see that things have not turned out as Celestine expected.

     Bunuel co-wrote the screen play of Diary of a Chambermaid with his regular collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere with whom he wrote the two films on his CV that received Oscar nominations for best screenplay The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). Yet Diary of a Chambermaid is not a typical Bunuel film; the narrative is straightforward and without surreal touches, although we do get a butterfly splattered by a shotgun and snails crawling over the murdered girl’s leg. It is also the only film Bunuel made in the widescreen 2.35:1 ratio as he reverted to the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, for example, for the other films mentioned above.

     Diary of a Chambermaid is a fascinating look at morality and attitudes in 1930s France with an impressive cast and good visuals. Bunuel’s fans will not be disappointed.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Diary of a Chambermaid is in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced and PAL.

     This is a good looking black and white film. The Normandy countryside looks soft, even when it are not shrouded in light mist but close-ups are clear and detailed as are interiors. Greyscales are good, blacks solid and shadow detail very good, brightness and contrast consistent. There is one obvious scratch at 2:38, a few fleeting marks, reel change markers every 20 minutes or so (the first at 19:25) and the layer change at 46:51 created a pause in the middle of a scene. Nothing however was distracting and the film had a pleasant grain structure.

     English subtitles are provided in a cream text. They can be removed via the remote.

Video Ratings Summary
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Audio

     Audio is French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 384 Kbps. The film was released with mono audio at the theatre.

     Dialogue is clear. Effects such as horses’ hooves, engines, cart wheels, the rain and thunder were fine. There is no score. Hiss and crackle was not evident. Obviously there is no surround or subwoofer use.

    Lip synchronisation was fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
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Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     Nothing. There is no menu, the programme starts when the DVD loads.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The US Region 1 Criterion DVD includes a booklet and an interview with Jean-Claude Carriere (18:57) although it is now out of print. The Region 2 UK release looks to be only available as part of a box set with Belle De Jour and The Milky Way.

     The best version of Diary of a Chambermaid looks to be the previous Australia release by Madman about 8 years ago. That release was reviewed on this site here. It included as extras an audio commentary, a good featurette and a trailer, so would be the best option if you can get your hands on it.

Summary

     While Diary of a Chambermaid is not generally considered to be up there with Bunuel’s best films, although it certainly has its supporters. The film looks gorgeous in black and white widescreen, Jeanne Moreau is superb and the script with its reversals, fetishes and perversions is never less than enthralling. If you don’t own the previous Madman DVD of the film this new release is worth of look.

    The print is fine for a 50 year old film, the audio is the original mono. No extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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