Review: Murderous Maids

Murderous Maids

The crazed, homeless man who keeps constant guard at the 7th Avenue subway station on 53rd Street was putting on a show for the rush hour crowd and a small group of Midwest tourists. He waxed Shakespeareian on priests with choirboys on the brain (“Make my bed boy and be quick!”) and feminism (“The women’s movement is the great lesbian lie of 1850”). Murderous Maids tells the true story of Christine Papin (Sylvie Testud) and Léa Papin (Julie-Marie Parmentier), two sisters who murdered and mutilated their employer Madame Lancelin and her daughter Genevieve. The Papin sisters did wonders for the feminist movement though director Jean-Pierre Denis has less to say about the rationale behind their crime than he does about their alleged incestuous relationship. As maids, Christine and Léa suffered the slings and arrows of bourgeois condescension. Murderous Maids seems burdened by familiarity—forget Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, this story was unofficially told before by Claude Chabrol in his brilliant La Ceremonie. By focusing attention away from the demands of the bourgeois order and onto Christine’s burgeoning madness, Murderous Maids is conservative to a fault. The film, though, is incredibly riveting for what comes to resemble a National Enquirer expose. You might forgive Denis for being so unconcerned with the implications and ramifications of the Papin sisters’ crime if only for Testud’s miraculous performance. The bourgeois order depicted in the film is considerably less ghoulish than one would expect. Testud fabulously taps into her character’s humanity, wearing every condescending bourgeois demand like a lashing to the soul. Ripped of her humanity, Testud’s Christine becomes a working stiff of Greek proportions.

 Cast: Sylvie Testud, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Isabelle Renauld, Francois Levantal, Dominique Labourier, Jean-Gabriel Nordmann, Marie Donnio  Director: Jean-Pierre Denis  Screenwriter: Jean-Pierre Denis, Michèle Pétin  Distributor: Rialto Pictures  Running Time: 94 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2002  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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