Opens Nov 1
Clinton St. Theater
Murderous Maids is one of several dramatizations of one of the most famous murders in the history of France. In the 1930s, sisters Léa and Christine Papin were both working as live-in chambermaids. After a hard life as orphans and degraded servants, often separated for great lengths of time, they managed to attain positions in the same household. Eventually, they became lovers. If that's not freaky enough, they eventually snapped and brutally murdered their mistress and her daughter.
The story has been retold many a time, as is always the case with juicy true crime episodes. Jean Genet based his play, The Maids, on the same story, and you can find a 1994 American, all woman production entitled Sister My Sister at the video store. As in similar cases, such as the Lizzy Borden murders, the story is slightly manipulated in each reinterpretation.
Director Jean-Pierre Denis's version is thorough, elaborating on how the girls' lives resulted in such a horrific culmination. Christine, the older sister, is shown as a young girl blacking out in fights and gazing, fascinated, at the sight of her own blood on a cut hand. Her lifetime of loneliness and servitude is punctuated by a fiercely protective attitude towards her younger sister against their negligent mother.
By the time they get around to lesbian incest, the film has unfolded so sympathetically that it almost seems natural. Well, what else are they going to do shut up in a little room together all the time, absented from the company of men? Duh! The creepiest part is that the sex scenes are tinged with the same sisterly camaraderie as their cheerful, clothed, girly wrestling. It's truly a testament to the film's care in masterfully establishing their personalities.
The murder scene takes a slightly different tack than other versions, but forfeits not a thing in its graphic violence. Far more than a sensationalist interpretation, the progression of the mental deterioration is patient and delicate without ever encroaching upon the audience's anticipation with moments of dullness. The result is a chillingly believable character portrait and an illustration of a psychosis unfurling.