"Dark View of French Society Around 1900"
What You Need To Know:
This DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID presents an absorbing version of the novel. However, it has a Romantic, anti-capitalist, feminist worldview, and misanthropic view of humanity. There’s a positive scene in a church, but the story shows the Anti-Semitic gardener spreads Anti-Semitic literature with help from some unseen priests. CHAMBERMAID contains strong foul language and brief explicit content. So, media-wise viewers will find DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID unacceptable.
(RoRoRo, FeFeFe, AcapAcap, AbAb, C, LL, V, SS, NNN, AA, D, MM) Very strong Romantic, feminist worldview set in 1800s France where the wealthy are greedy, mean and prey on their servants, but the servants also can be greedy thieves, which is basically what the female protagonist becomes at the end of the story, plus a strong implied anti-capitalist critique and an attack on the French Catholic church, which is seen as Anti-Semitic though the local priest has a brief positive scene, and Christian doctrine isn’t attacked specifically but can be seen as positive, though ineffectual; 11 obscenities (mostly “d” words with one “f” word), one strong profanity and nine light exclamatory profanities; light violence includes scary dogs bark wildly in a couple scenes, dogs are shot dead, a young woman is found brutally murdered in the woods but nothing shown; scenes of depicted fornication, but not very graphic, and a servant reports to the heroine that she’s become pregnant by their master; graphic depiction of a male organ in the form of a sexual device, and brief upper male nudity in a couple scenes; alcohol use and brief drunkenness; smoking; and, stealing, lying, deceit, abuse of servants, betrayal, revenge, and it’s hinted that one older female servant performs abortions for other servants who’ve gotten pregnant by their male employers.
DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID is the fourth movie version (and the second French language version) of a scandalous 1990 novel by George Mirbeau, an iconoclastic French anarchist, anti-capitalist, social critic, and pacifist (1848-1917), that compared domestic service to slavery. Each of the movie versions changes some story details from the original novel, with the 1946 English-language version made in Hollywood by the acclaimed French film director Jean Renoir (GRAND ILLUSION) perhaps being the least faithful because of its happy ending. Interestingly, Mirbeau was a champion of the paintings of Jean’s father, Auguste Renoir, and an early advocate of Van Gogh’s paintings.
Unlike previous versions, this new French movie is set in the time of the novel, the late 1800s near the turn of the century. It focuses on the domestic “adventures” of Célestine, a pretty but resentful and outspoken young chambermaid who finds herself exiled to a position in the French provinces. She chafes at the strict, unreasonable demands of the mistress of the house and must rebuff the advances of the husband, who apparently impregnated their last chambermaid.
Célestine becomes enamored with the gardener, a brooding, earthy Anti-Semite named Joseph. As the movie shows flashbacks of a couple previous jobs, she agrees to help Joseph steal the silver from the house and escape to a better life. Of course, by agreeing to that plan, she also becomes dependent on Joseph, just as she’s been dependent on the benevolence of her various employers. Or, so the movie’s ending suggests.
Apparently, the original novel shows that the heroine becomes the co-owner of a café where she treats her servants just as badly as she was treated. The author was a friend of the French novelist Emile Zola, with whom he lobbied in favor of Alfred Dreyfuss, a military officer convicted of treason because of virulent Anti-Semitism. Mirbeau was also an anti-capitalist, misanthropic anarchist, who believed money corrupted all classes, but the wealthy most of all.
At any rate, DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID is an absorbing movie with many spot-on performances. However, it has a strong Romantic, anti-capitalist, feminist worldview and misanthropic view of humanity. There’s a relatively positive scene set in a church, but the movie depicts the Anti-Semitic gardener spreading Anti-Semitic literature with help from some unseen priests (The original novel’s author was virulently anti-clerical because of his view of massive corruption in the Catholic Church. There’s a suspicion he may have been abused by a priest himself when he was a child attending a Catholic school and/or knew of other similar abuses). CHAMBERMAID also contains strong foul language and brief explicit content. So, media-wise viewers will find DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID unacceptable.
MOVIEGUIDE® has no doubt there probably was indeed widespread abuse of women and the poor in France at the time this novel was written. Certainly, the infamous Dreyfuss Affair shows there was widespread Anti-Semitism in the country. However, all this evil can be laid at the doorstep of man himself and his sinful nature, not God or belief in God. By 1900, the De-Christianization of Europe, including France, Germany and Britain, had come a long way. In fact, France had gone from being a tyrannical monarchy supported by a corrupt, ineffectual Catholic Church to a mostly secular country that could often be strongly anti-clerical. So, if there was widespread oppression and abuse of the powerless in France during the 1800s and early 1900s, one could just as easily blame it on the widespread atheism and secularism on a national level and on heresy within the church itself, both Catholic Churches and Protestant ones, more than any other factors. Thus, the answer to sin of all kinds is not atheism or radical social reform, but Christian revival that focuses on Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit and the Bible to transform people’s characters and, eventually, their lives, for the better.