Murderous Maids (2000)

“So this is what a maid is…”

Murderous Maids is the true story of the notorious Papin sisters who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in 1933. The film begins with sisters Emilia and Christine dragged off to a convent school where Emilia begins to take her vows as a nun. The Papin family is a troubled one. Emilia was raped by her father, and the rest of the film makes us wonder what happened to Christine (Sylvie Testud) to make her commit the horrible crime she was eventually tried for and found guilty.

Clemence (Isabelle Renauld), Christine’s mother, isn’t exactly a saint either. Christine expresses an interest in becoming a nun too, but that notion is squashed by her mother who stands to profit from her daughters’ employment. One senses that being a nun–while not exactly a burning desire for Christine–is at least preferable to a life of servitude as a maid. Christine becomes a servant in the homes of the wealthy, and the only joy in her life is her younger, not very bright sister, Lea (Julie-Marie Parmentier). Christine is extremely protective of Lea, and this protectiveness mutates into an incestuous lesbian relationship between the unhappy pair.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this film very much–but at the same time I do recognize the fact that it’s extremely well made and well acted. However, that said, the film is painful and depressing to watch. Christine’s life of servitude is full of misery. She is constantly under the watchful gaze of a series of petty-minded employers who monitor every move she makes. One employer even goes to the extremes of wearing white gloves and wiping the furniture to see that it’s perfectly clean. Christine and Lea eventually share a dismal bare attic room where they even have to resort to hiding the light bulb–another extravagance their demanding employer, Madame Lincelan (Dominque Labourier) considers wasteful.

Personally, I find the servant-master relationship distasteful, corrupting, and unnatural at best, but Christine’s lot is beyond reason. She becomes silent–completely dehumanized–and yet she’s held to the highest of standards and expected to intuit her employers’ every petty whim. To them she is less than human–and that’s what she becomes. And as Christine satisfies her employers’ demands, they fail to heed the warning signs. Nothing, however excuses the brutal murders and violence that occur in the household. The film evokes pity and then dismay as one realizes that Christine feels trapped, and there’s an inevitable, horrific event waiting to happen. Sylvie Testud delivers a chilling performance as the twitchy, deeply troubled Christine–a miserable girl who suppresses all her emotion until it tragically explodes.

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