Les Blessure Assassines

(Murderous Maids, France - 2000)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Sylvie Testud, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Isabelle Renauld, Dominique Labourier
Genre: Crime/Drama
Director: Jean-Pierre Denis
Screenplay: Jean-Pierre Denis & Michele Petin based on Paulette Houdyer's novel L'affaire Papin
Cinematography: Jean-Marc Fabre
Composer: none
Runtime: 94 minutes

Lead by the media, the world grows progressively more fascinated with what drives humans to kill. This film attempts to give the famous, often depicted, Papin sisters brutal murders of their masters a balanced treatment by piecing together an analysis of the sisters that was absent at the time of their rushed trial (which led to the introduction of psychiatry and psychoanalysis in the courtroom).

Murderous Maids is a model of restraint where nothing is forced on the audience. There's no manipulative music and no scenes there simply to advance the plot. The story just unfolds as a series of scenes from their life. They are ordered, but you fill in the gaps yourself, figure out what's changed with each the new scene. This style creates a great deal of anticipation, allowing the murders to be something of a surprise even though they are a given coming in. The film only shows you that Christine will act out in some way in response to whatever she doesn't like, which is everything that degrades her or keeps her from her sister.

There are no heroes or villians here, and no easy scapegoats. You want to like the sisters, but it does not hide or excuse their dark side. You want to dislike their masters, but none of them are any worse than normal and the ones they kill are the best of them all.

There's no easy person or class to blame for what the sisters went through and the horrible outcome of them becoming murderers. You can blame the bourgeoisie because, though they didn't abuse the sisters, they provide a dehumanizing environment that offers no freedom whatsoever where people are turned into as Christine says, "a dormat for others, without a name." You can blame their mother, who abandoned them early in life then sent them off to work later so she could use their wages to make her life easier. There's also Christine's mental illness, or religious repression that took away the older sister and won't condone Christine sleeping with the younger one Lea (Julie-Marie Parmentier).

Sylvie Testud, an actress worthy of far more attention than she gets, gives an exceptional restrained multi dimensional performance as Christine, her work really allowing for so many interpretations. She's intelligent but she may be a multiple personality and her lot in life combined with an incestuous relationship prevents her from showing her true feelings except in a few private moments. Her dominance over her naïve follower sister, her verbal violence with her mother who also vies for control of the sister, and her subjugation at work, amongst other things all come across without the usual help and gimmicks. Her character slowly boils over with repressed desire and rage until the inevitable lashing out. Though she impulsively explodes from time to time it's more a quietly simmering that only cools when she's alone with her beloved sister and can play around a little. She can be the perfect maid, but she quickly grows obstinate at any dehumanizing element, which makes her the champion of class struggle Jean-Paul Sartre tried to portray her as. She can be perfectly sane, but her paranoia builds up, sometimes rightfully and other times not.

The film is not even in the league with Claude Chabrol's brilliant La Ceremonie, also inspired by the Papin sisters, but I'd rate that among the top 5 films of the 90's. Murderous Maids tries to do different things and is certainly a worthy investigation.



Web metalasylum.com

* Copyright 2006 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *