Diary of a Chambermaid (1964 film)

Diary of a Chambermaid (French: Le journal d'une femme de chambre, Italian: Il diario di una cameriera) is a 1964 French-Italian drama film.[1] It is one of several French films made by Spanish-born filmmaker Luis Buñuel. Though highly satirical and reflective of his typical anti-bourgeoisie sentiments, it is one of Buñuel's more realistic films, generally avoiding the outlandish surrealist imagery and far-fetched plot twists found in many of his other works. It stars Jeanne Moreau as a chambermaid whose attractiveness is apparent to owners and to servants alike—her femininity charms some, at the same time it brings out jealousy (or admiration) in others of the household and among adjacent neighbors. The maid's predicament, in this light, develops her as a character with some autonomy, and with some powers that derive from the narrative context—which is a social setting of corruption, violence, sexual obsession and perversion. Just off the train from Paris, the chambermaid steps into a waiting buggy from the chateau, its driver already eyeing her, with designs that he expresses by remarking on her shoes.

Diary of a Chambermaid
Theatrical poster
Directed byLuis Buñuel
Produced byMichel Safra
Serge Silberman
Written byLuis Buñuel
Jean-Claude Carrière
Based onThe Diary of a Chambermaid by Octave Mirbeau
StarringJeanne Moreau
Michel Piccoli
Georges Géret
Françoise Lugagne
Daniel Ivernel
Jean Ozenne
CinematographyRoger Fellous
Edited byLouisette Hautecoeur
Release date
  • 4 March 1964 (1964-03-04) (France)
  • 16 September 1964 (1964-09-16) (Italy)
Running time
97 minutes
85 minutes (alternative French version)

This was the first screenwriting collaboration between Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière, which would later produce his well-known Belle de Jour (1967), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). The two extensively reworked the 1900 novel of the same name by Octave Mirbeau, that had been given a more literal treatment in its second film adaptation, made in Hollywood in 1946, directed by Jean Renoir. The novel has been adapted for the screen a third time in Benoît Jacquot's 2015 version.


A stylish, attractive young woman, Célestine (Jeanne Moreau), arrives from Paris to become chambermaid for an odd family at their country chateau. The period is mid-1930s, and the populace is astir with extremist politics, right and left. The Monteil's household consists of a childless couple, the frigid wife's elderly, genteel father, and several servants, including Joseph the groom (Georges Géret) who's a rightist, nationalist, anti-Semitic, violent man. The wife (Françoise Lugagne) runs a rigidly tidy house; she would like to please her virile husband physically, but cannot, due to pelvic "pain." M. Monteil (Michel Piccoli) amuses himself by hunting small game and pursuing all the females within range the previous chambermaid seems to have left pregnant and had to be "bought off."

The wife's father amuses himself with his collection of racy postcards and novels, and a closet full of women's shoes and boots, that he likes his chambermaids to model. Their next-door neighbor (Daniel Ivernel) is a burly, retired Army officer, with a chubby maid/mistress (Gilberte Géniat), and a violent streak of his own he likes to throw refuse and stones over the fence, to the great annoyance of M. Monteil. To the maid's role, (in this household chiefly determined by sexual proclivities of other characters) Célestine adapts quickly, and through her own insight as well as through convivial gossip from kitchen staff, she begins to employ her own female assets conveniently, a practical behavior providing her some security, in her varied domestic relations or encounters.

The elderly father, M. Rabour (Jean Ozenne), is found dead in bed, disheveled, clutching some boots that Célestine had worn earlier that evening; and Célestine decides to leave the job the next day. Previously, however, she had become motherly and protective of a sweet prepubescent girl named Claire (Dominique Sauvage) who visited the house; after the girl's raped and mutilated body is found in a nearby wood, Célestine decides to stay on at the job, in order to get revenge on the murderer. She quickly finds reason to suspect the groom Joseph. She seduces and promises to marry him and join him to run a café in Cherbourg, so he will confess the crime to her, which he does not. She then contrives and plants evidence to implicate him in the girl's murder. He is arrested, but eventually released for lack of solid evidence, although there is a suggestion that the real reason is his nativist political activism. Meanwhile, Célestine agrees to marry the elderly ex-Army-officer neighbor, and after the marriage, we see him serving her breakfast in bed and obeying her commands. The final scene shows a crowd of nationalistic men marching past the Cherbourg café run by Joseph, who has another woman now and is shouting rightist slogans.


Production and release notes

  • The film was originally intended for the Mexican actress Silvia Pinal (star of the film Viridiana, 1961). Pinal learned French and was willing to charge nothing for her participation. However, the French producers ended up choosing Jeanne Moreau.[2]
  • Shooting on Diary of a Chambermaid began on 21 October 1963.[3]
  • At the end of the film, the marching rightists shout "Vive Chiappe", a reference to the Paris police chief who stopped director Buñuel's 1930 film, L'Âge d'Or from being exhibited after the theater it was being shown in was destroyed by Fascists.[4]
  • In 1964, the film was shown at the Venice Film Festival and the New York Film Festival.[3]
  • The film was first released on home video in the U.S. on 22 March 1989.[3]
  • The film was re-released at the Film Forum in New York City on 13 October 2000 in a new 35-mm print.[3]


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