"Lack of a meaningful psychological center is the death of this murder movie"
The highlight in a largely dead in the water movie is Julie-Marie Parmentier’s understated performance as Lea Papin and the satisfactory but sometimes forced performance of Sylvie Testud as Christine Papin. The camera can pick up tiny, subtle things that you would have to compensate for on the stage. I know you only notice the parts that grate on you but bumps in the road are bumps in the road and I’m here to tell you about them.Too much time was spent leading up the murders and I was never satisfied that all the back story was getting me into the psychology of the sisters. The characters were all there as facts but they never materialized as people. I didn’t know if I was supposed to feel sympathy or anger or just be morbidly curious.
I’m thinking that perhaps the real Papin sister had a mental illness because that would go a long way in explaining the gaps of reason. Childhood victimization and trauma, not only more common in the 20’s, but of much less concern to anyone, does exert a powerful influence on the shape of one’s character but it is not the sole defining element. There had to be something more insidious and less rational at work that was not addressed in the film.
There were a hundred other girls in the convent run orphanage where the Papin’s were raised for a time, am I to think that all those girls ended up with devastated lives because of it?
But it wasn’t a complete waste of time. The location and period details spared me from working too hard to understand what the film was trying to do.
And some of the sex scenes were gratuitous (and when aren’t they), so if you want to see hot sister on sister action, then this is the “art” film for you.
The first two-thirds of the film moves along slowly but when you the film finally starts leading up to the point of the murder, it gets involving. They should have opened the film with the murders and then worked backwards from there since I had no idea what I was watching for. I didn’t have any sense that the payoff for my time was coming soon and the film began to drag so I occupied myself by paying attention to all the period details and trying to understand what little French I could without looking at the subtitles.
The actual “big defining moment” of the murder slipped through as a footnote near the end rather then being the crux of the film.
At the end you find out that the 88 year old Lea is still alive. I would rather have heard her attempt to understand what happened. In Heavenly Creatures, you get a detailed, intimate look into how the girls pathology progressed into a bizarre and shocking murder. (As if murder isn’t ever bizarre or shocking – but when the motivations are complex or unknown it hits us more then if its something like revenge or protecting life or property or hot headed machismo.)Murderous Maids ends up like watching an enactment of a police blotter or the notes of a court appointed psychologist. The lack of a meaningful center or sympathetic characters makes this film pointless.