The Chambermaid on the Titanic (1997)

 “It would be wonderful to die of love.”

Chambermaid on the TitanicIn the film, The Chambermaid on the Titanic French factory worker Horty (Oliver Martinez) wins the company’s annual contest of strength (once again), but this year, the prize is a bit different. Horty is sent to Southampton, England to watch the launching of the Titanic. At first, Horty’s wife, Zoe (Romane Bohringer) is thrilled because she thinks she will go too, but the prize is for Horty alone, so he leaves for Southampton, and Zoe stays at home.

Horty goes to the Southampton hotel where he is supposed to spend the night, and once inside his room, a beautiful young woman knocks on the door and asks if she can spend the night. Horty, at first refuses, but the young French woman appeals to his chivalrous side. The woman, Marie (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), says she is a chambermaid on the Titanic. Since she’s due to sail tomorrow and just needs a place to sleep for the night, Horty lets her stay….

Upon returning to France, Horty is greatly changed. His wife notices his altered demeanor, and soon a sulkily distracted Horty is down at the pub with his fellow workers. Someone notices that he has a photograph of Marie, and soon everyone wants to know who she is and exactly what Horty’s relationship is with this beautiful mystery woman. Horty begins to tell stories about Marie, and although the stories begin with romance, Horty’s audience begins to demand the salacious details. Night after night Horty entertains his fellows with his erotic tales. The audience members are all workers whose drab hand-to-mouth existence leaves little energy or money at the end of the day. Horty’s tale of sexual passion with a passing stranger begins to represent the workers’ entertainment and their collective fantasies.

When news that the Titanic has sunk reaches the factory workers, they frenziedly request Horty’s story about Marie over and over again–and the situation becomes intolerable for Zoe. But a quirk of fate leads Horty to an acting career and he takes his stories to a wider audience. Shaped by a savvy, seasoned manager, Horty’s performance becomes more and more elaborate as his audience becomes more affluent.

The story is really about the blending–and collision–of fantasy and truth. Horty and his fellow workers have no glamour or fantasy in their bleak lives until Horty begins entertaining everyone with his stories. Soon it isn’t even important if the stories are true or blatant lies. What’s important is the ability to weave fantasy. But there is danger in fantasy–as Horty discovers–fantasy has a way of getting completely out-of-control, and when fantasy take over your life, does fantasy then become reality?

This is a very clever and unusual film from Spanish director Bigas Luna. It is perhaps one of the most haunting foreign films I’ve ever seen–a very unconventional romance–packed with good, solid acting, a script loaded with surprises, and splendid cinematography. If you enjoy this film I recommend two other films: Patrice Leconte’s The Hairdresser’s Husband and Girl on the Bridge.

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Filed under Bigas Luna, France

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