Benoit Jacquot’s Diary of a Chambermaid — the fourth adaptation of the Mirbeau novel already made famous on the screen by Renoir and Buñuel — has Lea Seydoux as the young chambermaid, sent from Paris into the provinces to work for a harsh mistress with a lecherous husband, who falls for the wiles of Vincent Lindon’s handsome manservant.
He turns out to be violently anti-Semitic and the possible murderer of a young Jewish girl. Even so, she is persuaded to leave with him to Cherbourg where he plans to use her as a whore to gain a living.
The film is expertly made and acted, and clearly intends a dig at the bourgeoisie of the early 20th century. But, though eminently watchable, it seems that the dark underbelly of the time and the chambermaid’s determined struggle to use her sensuality to gain her freedom, yis subservient to Benoit’s desire to make a film that confounds the usual parameters of good story-telling.
Most of the time he succeeds, not consistently. Buñuel’s version is still the most audacious, and the best.