Directed By: Jean-Pierre Denis
Starring: Sylvie Testud, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Isabelle Renauld
Trivia: There is no music whatsoever in this film
It was a crime that rocked all of France. On February 2, 1933, sisters Christine and Léa Papin, both working as maids for the same household, murdered the wife and daughter of their employer, beating their heads in (with both a hammer and a pewter pot) before gouging out their eyes. When the authorities found the sisters, they were lying in bed together, stark naked. It’s a sensational story, and 2000’s Murderous Maids doesn’t shy away from any of the details, presenting them in a manner that’s simultaneously fascinating and repellant.
When her older sister Emelia (Charlotte Guille) decides to become a nun, a young Christine (played as a teen by Tessa Szczeciniarz) leaves the convent where the two of them were raised and returns home to live with her estranged mother (Isabelle Renauld) and younger sibling Léa (Julie-Marie Parmentier). Once she’s of age, Christine (Sylvie Testud) tries to gain her independence by taking a job as a maid, working for several different employers before finally landing at the Lincelan household in the town of Le Mans. She quickly impresses Madame Lincelan (Dominique Labourier), and is able to persuade her to also hire Léa, who becomes the personal servant of the Lencelin’s adult daughter, Geneviève (Marie Donnio). Happy to have pried her away from their domineering mother, Christine soon realizes her feelings for Léa run much deeper than sisterly love. Fearful of losing the only person she truly cares for, Christine seeks to gain control of every facet of Léa’s life, but how far is she willing to go to ensure they stay together forever?
Murderous Maids is, indeed, a disturbing film, due in part to the way it recreates the murder at the center of it all. Concerned about Christine’s behavior in recent weeks (several days earlier, she visited the Mayor of Le Mans to ask him to emancipate Léa from their mother, only to storm out after launching into a nonsensical tirade), Madame Lincelin, who said she was visiting a friend for the evening, sneaks into the house along with Geneviève to see what her maids are really up to, causing a nervous Christine to lash out violently. While the killing itself is severe, the bloody aftermath, shot from above by director Jean-Pierre Denis, is even more gruesome. Equally as jarring as the murder is the way the film presents the incestuous relationship that develops between Christine and Léa, and how it affected Christine’s psyche. The moment the two began to physicalize their love for one another, Christine’s infatuation with her younger sister reached a critical level. In fact, it was all-consuming. Having found love, Christine was not going to let anyone take it away from her. Some who tried paid the ultimate price.
A tale of murder that also features an incestuous lesbian relationship, Murderous Maids had all the makings of a classic exploitation flick. Yet despite its occasional foray into depravity, the movie clearly favors the emotional over the fantastic, and in so doing creates a work of incredible power.