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The Criterion Collection presents
Diary of a Chambermaid (1964)

Monsieur Rabour: "So you're Celestine?"
Celestine: "Yes, sir."
Monsieur Rabour: "I really like the name. Indeed I do. Put that down there. But it's a bit too long, don't you think? For too long. If you don't mind, I'll call you Marie. Marie is pretty too, and it's short. Besides, I've called all my chambermaids Marie. It's a habit of mine. And not one I think I could break."

- Monsieur Rabour (Jean Ozenne) Celestine (Jeanne Moreau)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: September 14, 2001

Stars: Jeanne Moreau, Georges Geret
Other Stars: Daniel Invernel, Françoise Lugagne, Jean Ozenne, Michel Piccoli, Muni
Director: Luis Buñuel

Manufacturer: Studio Canal
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mature themes)
Run Time: 01h:38m:01s
Release Date: June 05, 2001
UPC: 037429158128
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+BB A-

DVD Review

Luis Buñuel is one of the most prominent film directors of the past century, and is considered by many to be the father of that vaguely artsy term of cinematic Surrealism. His body of work includes not only the 1964 release Diary of a Chambermaid, but Belle de jour (1967), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), which would turn out to be his final film. His career as a director spanned nearly fifty years, until his death in 1983 at the age of 83. A comrade of fellow Surrealist Salvador Dali, Buñuel's collected works rightfully still stand today as film classics.

Working from Octave Mirbeau's novel, Bủuel and long-time collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière loosely adapted the story to become their interpretation of Diary of a Chambermaid. Set in 1930s' provincial France, Buñuel cast the mesmerizing beauty Jeanne Moreau as Celestine, the Parisian domestic who accepts a new position with a strange and wealthy family on their huge estate in the country. Immediately upon her arrival, Celestine is set upon by the various eccentric members of the family, including stern Madame Monteil (Françoise Lugagne), oversexed Monsieur Monteil (Bủuel regular Michel Piccoli), and the quirky Monsieur Rabour (Jean Ozenne). In addition the bizarre Monteils, gruff handyman Joseph (Georges Geret) does little to add to Celestine's overall comfort.

Under Bủuel's control, Celestine's new world appears intensely foreign and alien. Coming from the enviable sophistication of Paris, Celestine herself is taken aback by the, dare I say it, surreal environs of the Monteil estate. Only the other servants, as well as friendly neighbor Captain Mauger (Daniel Invernel), a man with an ongoing feud with Monsieur Monteil, offer any solace to the new chambermaid.

It is not long before all of the male characters develop their own unique sexual longing for Celestine, and she is constantly fending off their various advances as she weighs her options. The film turns decidedly dark at the halfway point, when a brutal murder occurs, and the killer remains on the loose. Celestine takes it upon herself to pin the blame on who she suspects to be the guilty party, at literally any cost. But unlike modern filmmakers, who would undoubtedly turn Celestine into a crafty crime fighter, Bủuel keeps the chambermaid's actions anchored in reality, however surreal.

I will admit to not having read Octave Mirbeau's novel, so I cannot comment completely on the success of Bủuel and Carrière's adaptation. The tale itself is a tangle of unnatural desires and fetishes, with the character of Celestine thrust into the middle. Bủuel's version is sublime, and is almost eerie in it's visual style. Filmed in black & white by Buñuel, Diary of a Chambermaid depicts the spread of French fascism amidst the otherworldly fog-shrouded country estate of the Monteils. There are moments in this film that are disturbingly beautiful (snails crawling along the legs of a dead body), and others that appear to have been lifted from an artist's canvas (the beautiful French countryside). I did have a bit of a problem with film's somewhat abrupt conclusion, and as I am not fully literate in Europe's political history with regard to French reactionaries and leftist demonstrators, I had to rely on the DVD's liner notes to clarify some of Buñuel's intent.

Buñuel is a director of great importance, and he has released some artistically significant works over his long career. He has shown himself to be a man with real cinematic vision, though Diary of a Chambermaid may be a slightly more straightforward offering, in comparison to some of his other works. Yet there is still plenty of dark, disturbing content and memorable images to be found here that give Diary of a Chambermaid a very strong impact. To be more specific, I may never look at snails the same way again.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Diary of a Chambermaid is presented in a rich black and white 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer by Criterion. Filmed in Franscope in 1964, this DVD release of Diary of a Chambermaid was mastered from a newly-struck 35mm fine grain master positive, which was made from the film's original negative. Yet even with the fine restoration attempts, there are still numerous blemishes that appear frequently. The imperfections are not completely distracting, but are certainly noticeable. There is a nice level of contrast present, with solid black levels throughout. Buñuel's black and white images still retain much of their dramatic appeal, thanks to Criterion, though some visible ringing is present sporadically.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono mix, here restored from a 35mm magnetic audio track, sounds very clean. No noticeable hiss, and dialogue (in French) is always crisp.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 42m:51s

Extra Extras:
  1. Luis Buñuel interview transcript
  2. Color Bars
Extras Review: Criterion often provides a thorough blend of supplemental material, and this release is no exception:

Luis Buñuel Interview Transcript
Included as part of the insert, this is a five page interview of Luis Buñuel, conducted in the 1970s by Jose De La Colina and Tomas Perez Turrent, a pair of Mexican writers. The full interview appeared in their book Objects of Desire: Conversations With Luis Buñuel. There is some informative discussion about the imagery in Diary of a Chambermaid, as well as how Buñuel adapted the original work.

Video Interview with Jean-Claude Carrière (18m:57s)
As a constant collaborator of Bủuel, Carrière discusses at great length what it was like to work with such a visionary director. Essential viewing as background on the legendary Buñuel. The interview, done at Carrière's home in the fall of 2000, are broken down into eight segments. Each segment can be individually accessed, or the option to play the entire interview is available. The segments are:
Meeting Buñuel
A Man of Contradiction
Invented by the Cinema
On Acting
Adapting Mirbeau
Reflecting on Diary of a Chambermaid
Jeanne Moreau
Piccoli and Muni

Theatrical Trailer
An unusual treat. This French trailer features an interview with Jeanne Moreau, complete with subtitles, that plays over scenes from the film.

Insert Booklet
Another Criterion staple. In addition to the aforementioned Buñuel interview, the booklet includes a 4-page piece on Buñuel written by Michael Atkinson of The Village Voice.

Color Bars
Another standard issue from Criterion.

An impressive 32 chapter stops, and the required English subtitles complete the supplementals.

Criterion makes it very easy for even the uninitiated to appreciate the work of Luis Buñuel and Diary of a Chambermaid.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Diary of a Chambermaid is a nice example of the work of Luis Buñuel. Not too arty, not too surreal. Based on a literary classic, this Criterion release could serve as an introduction to the appreciation of the often dread "foreign" film. Diary of a Chambermaid is refreshingly unsettling.

Recommended for lovers of Buñuel, and for those who have appreciated Criterion's superb treatments of other landmark foreign releases.


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