Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Maids

The Maids (French: Les Bonnes) is a 1974 film that was directed by Christopher Miles. It is based on the play of the same title by the French dramatist Jean Genet. The film stars Glenda Jackson as Solange, Susannah York as Claire, Vivien Merchant as Madame, and Mark Burns as Monsieur. Solange and Claire are two housemaids who construct elaborate sadomasochistic rituals when their mistress (Madame) is away. The focus of their role-playing is the murder of Madame and they take turns portraying either side of the power divide. The deliberate pace and devotion to detail guarantees that they always fail to actualize their fantasies by ceremoniously "killing" Madame at the ritual's denouement. 

It is the surface of things that makes "The Maids" spellbinding (even through an arbitrary intermission that has been stuck into the one-act play). The film is carried by the furious interplay between Miss Jackson's Solange and Miss York's Claire, when they are playing what they call their "scene," and then between the two maids and Madame, who renders Solange and Claire effectively impotent by her casual kindnesses, by her insistence on recognizing as tokens of love the presents they have given her in hatred.

Although "The Maids" is composed of role-playing, it is not a drama of identity as Antonioni's "The Passenger" is. Solange, Claire and Madame do not possess hidden hearts to be uncovered as by peeling artichokes. Each is a reflection of the other's wishes. Solange and Claire exist only in terms of the sado-masochistic relationship that binds them to each other and to Madame, who is, in turn, their creation.

The three actresses have a superb time giving life to this wild riddle, missing none of the sometimes caustic, sometimes matter-of-fact humor that Sartre never takes time to ponder in his preface, but which is essential to Genet's work and to this film.
Vincent Canby

Fearing you but calling your name Icy breath encases my skin Fingers like a fountain of needles Shiver along my spine And rain down so divine

Sure, it is so Romantic. But, isn't it time for a revival?

The local branch of my community library does not carry feature films due to limitations of space. Whilst perusing their recently acquired DVD collection of plays, documentaries, and the like--I found the Maids. Why they have this one remains a mystery. It is too exquisite for this town and I say this as an acknowledged elitist poor enough not to let his Self in on the joke. I'm slowly (so slowly) working my way through Genet. I don't read French and I loathe the prospect of losing anything through translation. Fortunately, this production benefits from such an excellent translation that the venom is properly contained and projected where it belongs. This film captures the secret loathing we all share regarding anything pathetic, small and base. This is a political film of the highest order. The politics of power and persuasion. Pain and Delight. The various dances between the players in this film are new, terrifying and mesmerizing. The language of hate. It has never done so much to caress my soft, aching mouth...

I am now officially in love with Solange as embodied by the brilliant Glenda Jackson. I know Ms. Jackson (if you are nasty...) from her portrayal of Charlotte Corday in Marat/Sade. Now I know her as the perfect embodiment of the fetishistic urge for absolution and release. This is one of the few films that I will always consider better than orgasm. Maybe the only one. I do not want to spoil it for anyone who might need to acknowledge their total devotion to the ordered world of excellent things...

I am not to see Dirk Bogarde perfect this devotion to surfaces and corridors in The SERVANT. Then, possibly, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS. A dream I had once and it only hurt when I laughed...


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