One of the most challenging conundrums a film can face is documenting the activities of a voyeur. Whereas in a novel the author can decide how much of character’s thought processes to reveal, and to what end, even a film’s most earnest attempts to disseminate the desired amount of information may not reach an audience or be received.
This task becomes more difficult when it’s widely agreed that the novel the film is basing itself on is commonly agreed to have an enigmatic protagonist.
The Chambermaid tells the tale of Lynne, the most dedicated and proficient employee at her hotel. She gives the rooms immaculate care and attention. Unbeknownst to the guests she gives them equally clandestine attention looking through their things, hiding under the bed, listening to their conversations, and so forth.
Being placed in the role of observing the observer can be a distancing and disenchanting one particularly when not given sufficient illumination on the character’s motivations, wants, and needs. However, what occurs in this film as Lynne (Vicky Krieps) develops a relationship, both personal and physical with call-girl Chiara (Lena Lauzemis) she begins to emerge from her shell but we remain observers. Much like her psychologist, who remains unseen like Antoine Doinel’s, we’re left in many instances where we see only the surface she decides to reveal.
The film begins with Lynne sharing a story of how her whole philosophy on life was formed at a young age. The majority of the film is her exploring if there’s any truth, any genuine emotion behind the lie she believes life to be. Yet that morsel at the beginning is the only thing easily learned for the audience. And we have more real information than her psychologist ever does, and even we don’t really ever fully know what landed her in in-patient treatment.
In the most banal terms The Chambermaid can be reduced to a woman learning how she can about living life, while being an active participant rather than a passive spectator. Getting her to make that decision will be a process that will be imperfect and cause some pain but one that ultimately happens and it’s the one the audience is invited to see. The ebb-and-flow, the essential struggle underway to come to that conclusion is one that is a bit inundated by the set-pieces and the gorgeous mise-es-scène, which displays that not only can prisons be self-imposed, but they can also be brightly colored.
At the beginning Lynne ruminates on the story her mother told her about the waves being caught in a seashell. As a child, she bristled at this wondering how something so large could be contained in something so small. Yet that statement seems to define the philosophy of the whole film where a much bigger tale of Lynne’s whole life is reduced to this flashpoint where she finally spies something in one of her hotels room that prompts her to act rather than view.