During his second phase of career, Luis Bunuel made certain brilliant Mexican-Spanish films with his trademark wicked and irreverent sense of humor and satire implied to eternal human irrationality. Compared to his last post-modernist textbook like French bourgeoisie satires, this second phase of his films dipped with themes aimed at repressive sex, religion and politics. Based on Octave Mirbeau’s novel, Bunuel’s this screen adaptation almost remained faithful to the original except its confused and digressive ending guided by his personal and political tone.
The film begins with arrival of a beautiful, smart and sophisticated young Parisian dame Celstine to work as a private maid to a rich old man. She was invited by the daughter of an old man who soon becomes a constantly nagging lady for Celestine. The old Master and his son-in-law privately started taking advances to her. Bunuel used the beautiful dames as objects of male gaze like none highlighting the repressed human sexual fantasy and fetish and this film is no exception. Compared to angelic victim as in ‘Viridiana’, revenge seeking ‘Tristana’, he used woman’s beauty here as her power tool in male dominant patriarchic society. The old man indulges in his whims and the son unsatisfied in his needs from wife, wants to share his instinctual urges with this young maid but Celstine smartly managed to escape being their victim. There’re two other men to watch here and rather an interesting ones in form of the rough and brutish head servant named Joseph where we can see trademark Bunuel aggressive male. Compared to her two sick Masters, it is his presence that becomes constant survival threat and tension to settle in the house for Celestine. The other supportive male for her is the next door neighbor working in army. Suddenly the rape and murder of an innocent girl becomes an issue of the town and Celestine decided to prolong her stay to solve the puzzle.
Though this film is quite abstained from common surreal and striking bizarre Bunuelian images, it didn’t remained untouched from his certain common traits i.e. - his fetish for legs (Viridiana, Tristana, La Joven), use of insects, birds and animals. Watch just the way he used boots at motif throughout the film here…just awesome! The film is significant one for bringing another shift to Bunuel’s career, served as breaking his old collaboration with Sylvia Pinal and Mexican low budget, quick productions. Instead of his wish to case Pinal as lead, he had to cast happening French actress of its time Jeanne Moreau as lead on producers’ insistence. Though Bunuel later claimed her as one of his personal favorite actress and though she gave here one of her memorable performance, it is quite strange and unfortunate that they never worked together as in case of Pinal and Catherine Deneuve. But what is most significant is his another new collaboration with screenplay writer Jean Claude Carriere who worked with almost all of his later films and added punch to Bunuel’s cinema of 60s and 70s; especially his last three brilliant post modernist bourgeois satires.