This is another of Bunuel’s "beautiful peasant woman thrown into a den of lecherous men" movies. But, this time, she’s a chambermaid instead of a nun or society woman and played by the fetching Jeanne Moreau instead of Catherine Deneuve or Silvia Pinal.
The focal chambermaid, Celestine, has a relatively good head on her shoulders this time as she arrives to a country house from Paris and must ingratiate herself with her employers and the resident class of servants. She’s wary of Joseph, the handyman, and his gruff entreaties to get under her frock as well as those of the Captain, a rich, dirty old codger who seems to have a fetish for leather boots and stockings, especially when Celestine is wearing them.
The Captain soon dies in bed (a suicide?) with his prized fetish objects. Later, one of the servant’s children is murdered in the nearby woods. At this point, Celestine begins to bend to Joseph’s come-ons but only so she can find out if he is the one who killed the little girl. In a sense, she’s playing amateur sleuth. But, this being Bunuel, she also seems a little turned on by the fact that Joseph might be a murderer…not to mention a murderer of little girls.
Diary of a Chambermaid may be the most straightforward movie of Bunuel’s I’ve seen in terms of its narrative and apparent lack of surrealist trickery. But it’s also the most muddled and uncommitted. There are some interesting sequences and nice shooting but nothing for Bunuel to attack (the mode he usually thrives in). And a surrealist in peaceable mode can be like a Doberman who’s lost its teeth. All bark and no…xylophone?