The Diary of a Chambermaid
"In Buñuel's films, all men are facets of the libido, all women resemblances of love" says David Thomson, my trusted guide to the history of cinema. Much as I disapprove of this reflex to assign genders to character traits, it's difficult not to warm to Jeanne Moreau – who seems to have wandered out of heaven and into a depraved and dangerous 1930s French countryside. Surrealism and symbol are a muted presence. We meet Little Red Riding Hood and the huntsman at the beginning, but the latter is a useless clown, and the former is unable to defend herself from the wolf in the forest. She is raped and killed, and the chambermaid takes it upon herself to avenge her death. In an early scene she hands the little girl an apple – perhaps suggesting that what men see as temptation is only ever supposed to be kindness. The villain is an intriguing creation, swearing loyalty to army, religion and nation, a believer in order in every particular. But he corners Moreau, and accuses her of having the same soul as he does. Is this true? Thomson's reading makes me doubt it. Moreau is a worldly Parisienne. Everyone in the countryside assumes she used to be a whore – but she's there to reflect what others want to see in her. She's the vehicle for Buñuel's critiques, and an angel caught up in the obscene affairs of human beings. She's not a real person.