Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri May 27, 2016 7:05 pm 
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Jacquot's faithful adaptation of Mirabeau's novel comes in two weeks

Of countless French theatrical adaptations of Gustave Mirabeau's 1900 French novel and a number of cinematic ones, Benoît Jacquot's film has to be the best and by far most accurate recreation of the book, an intense exploration of the lives of domestic servants in late-nineteenth-century France. Jacquot moves swiftly, eliding the the original pretense of a "journal" to show us directly its rambling contents of foreground at an oppressive provincial household in Normandy, alternating with flashbacks of many brief jobs in Paris. The maid is Célestine. She is played with boldness and passion by a sultry, sexy, wonderful Léa Seydoux - who already starred in Jacquot's 2012 Farewell, My Queen - and is clearly now the finest French actress of her generation. In lieu of journal entries she sometimes mutters angrily under her breath what might have been written comments about her hated current employers, the wife sadistic, the husband sexually exploitative.

The film is good looking and superbly acted in all its various episodes. It clearly brings out the book's themes of brutal sexism, rigid class structure, exploitation of domestic servants, and rampant anti-Semitism. The latter is embodied in M. Joseph, the rough gardener-coachman (another powerhouse performance, by the great Vincent Lindon). Joseph seems a mere brute, but he is a brute as perverted intellectual, secretly writing and publishing virulent Jew-hating pamphlets in the wake of l'Affaire Dreyfus, supported by the local Catholic church in his well-remunerated hate-mongering.

Critically well received in France, this brilliant, succinct movie seems destined to be misunderstood and underrated by English-speaking viewers, but we shall see.

Stay tuned for the whole review coming closer to the US release date, 10 June 2016.

Reead my full review now (18 June 2016) here.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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