Directed by Jean-Pierre Denis
Starring Sylvia Testud, Julie-Marie Parmentier
“Murderous Maids” is based on the true story of Christine and Lea Papin, two sisters that murdered their employer and her daughter in 1933 in LaMans, France. The story of the Papin sisters is fascinating, as is the movie based on their crime.
Christine, Lea and a third sister Emilia had a difficult childhood. After their father is accused of molesting Emilia, the mother, Clemence moves the girls away. She raises the daughters alone. Clemence makes her living as a maid for prosperous families. Emilia exhibits emotional problems and strange behavior frequently. Christine, Lea and Emilia attend convent school. Emilia has an episode at the school that the nuns describe as being “called by god”. She is separated from Christine and Lea in order that she may answer the “calling” and become a nun.
Clemence tells Christine she must find work in order to support the family. She arranges a maid’s position for Christine. Christine soon learns the emotional and physical stress of life in servitude. She resents her mother for forcing her into this lifestyle. Meanwhile, the mother seems to coddle and spoil the youngest daughter Lea. Christine is unnaturally attached to her younger sister and resents the time the mother spends on her. Christine has emotional problems of her own and is often enraged at her mother. Christine resents her social position in life. Through many turns of events, she manages to get Lea from the mother and finds her a maid’s position with her. They can now be together 24 hours a day. The sisters move from position to position until they settle with the Lincelan family. The abnormally close sibling relationship soon develops into a romantic relationship. Christine and Lea are in a world of their own protecting their secret relationship. Christine has the upper hand in the relationship and manipulates the younger and less educated Lea. They both resent the cruel remarks and injustice they endure at the hands of their employers, the Lincelan family.
Mme Lincelan and her daughter return home early one evening to discover the sisters relationship. Christine goes into a fit of rage and attacks them. Whether Lea actually assisted Christine with the murders is still a mystery to this day. However, Lea remains loyal to Christine and confesses to the murder with her sister.
The story of the Papin sisters is still shocking and interesting to this day. The story shocked not only France but also the world in 1933. Some looked at the sisters as cold-blooded killers, others viewed the sisters as merely striking back against the unfair social structure of the time.
The performance by Sylvie Testud as Christine is remarkable. She captures the unpredictable and enraged personality of Christine perfectly. Sylvie Testud’s performance is visceral and explosive. Even with these traits, Ms. Testud’s performance still has the viewer feeling somewhat sympathetic to Christine’s life spiraling out of control Julie-Marie Parmentier, as Lea is a solid performance as well. She portrays the misguided and naïve Lea very sympathetically. The performance by Dominque Labourier as Mme. Lincelan is noteworthy. Although Ms. Lincelan is cruel and snooty, Ms. Labourier performance allows you to see the soul of Mme.Lincelan.
The movie is beautifully directed and photographed. The set designs and costumes are impeccable at replicating 1933. The production values are flawless. It is to be noted, this film is graphic at depicting the romantic relationship between the sisters and also the murder of the Lincelan’s, that included eye-gouging the victims while they were still alive. But, I feel that to downplay the shocking nature of the Papin’s sisters life would be an injustice to the story.
“Murderous Maids” had a very limited art house run. It is finally getting the attention it deserves with this DVD release.
“Murderous Maids” is presented in a widescreen anamorphic transfer enhanced for 16 x 9 televisions. The transfer is very clean and the colors are vibrant
The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio. The audio is crystal clear without any pops or hiss present
The Bonus Features
There is a nice assortment of bonus features on this DVD. Interviews with Sylvie Testud and director Jean –Pierre Denis are included. There are also original French and American theatrical trailers. Also, a trailer from the film “The Maids” based upon classic Jean Genet play and starring Glenda Jackson and Susannah York. After viewing this trailer, it made this viewer appreciate the skill the actors and director brought to “Murderous Maids”. Also included is 1933 Vanity Fair article written by Janet Flanner in 1933 recounting the actual events. The inclusion of photos from newspapers at the time is a great addition.
Overall, the bonus features are great. However, an English language track option would make the film and interview portion more accessible to a larger audience. I enjoy and prefer subtitled films. Yet, it is fact that some people will find the movie interesting but will not watch it because of the subtitling. Others have vision impairments that prevent them from enjoying foreign films on DVD. I feel that having both subtitled and dubbed language options available would open great foreign films such as “Murderous Maids” to a wider audience.
“Murderous Maids” is a remarkable film. The film will get the attention it deserves with this DVD release. The story is scandalous and the performances are extraordinary.
Overall (Not an Average) 7.5/10
The Movie 8/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 7/10
The Packagng and Bonus Features 6/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7.5/10