Sunday, March 8, 2015

#1,665. Murderous Maids (2000)

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 finally tracked down the sisters, they were stark naked, lying in bed together. 

It’s a sensational story, and 2000’s Murderous Maids doesn’t shy away from the details, presenting them in a manner that’s as repellant as it is fascinating.

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 (now portrayed by 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. Christine 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). 

It isn't long before Christine realizes her feelings for Léa run much deeper than mere sisterly love, and, fearful of losing the only person she truly cares about, she tries to gain control of every facet of Léa’s life. 

But how far is Christine 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 tells Christine that she and her daughter are visiting a friend for the evening, then sneak back into the house to see what their maids are really up to.  What the Lincelins find shocks and horrifies them, and a nervous Christine, fearful they might try to separate her from 
Léa, lashes out violently. 

The rest, as they say, is history.

While the killing itself is severe, the bloody aftermath, shot from above, 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 affects 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. Having found love, Christine was not going to let anyone take it away from her. Two 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 the occasional foray into depravity, director Jean-Pierre Denis clearly favored the emotional over the fantastic, and in so doing created a work of incredible power.

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