Quiet and reserved, The Chambermaid nonetheless makes a big statement. A voyeuristic endeavour, it is an exploration in focus, attention and obsession, taking the gaze of the traditional classical film and flipping it on its head.
Instead of the male gaze usually associated with cinema, we are given one that is uniquely female. Our entry into the film is through the eyes of Lynn, a chambermaid who takes pleasure in watching hotel guests from under their beds. One such experience introduces her to Chiara, a dominatrix while she is servicing a client. Lynn is instantly fascinated with her, leading to a series of encounters between the two women.
This is very much a film about the desire and pleasure of the senses. Sounds are just as important as the images, and in some cases reveal more than what can be seen from the space beneath the bed. Dialogue is sparse and as a result, every word takes on extra weight and importance. The whole film plays out like a fetishistic dream, slowly building to a nontraditional end. Lynn’s gaze is so unique and so intense that it’s difficult to not find fascination and excitement in what she is drawn to.
There are no simple or easy designations in The Chambermaid. The actress who plays Chiara cuts a strikingly androgynous and yet hyper feminine figure, while Lynn displays a stereotypically shy and reserved femininity that nonetheless presents itself as a powerful and slightly dangerous force. This interplay is central to the films interrogation of representations of femininity, and the power that is held by the female gaze. It’s not just about how Lynn sees Chiara. It is also about how Lynn sees the rest of the world: as something for her own erotic pleasure.
The Chambermaid is a perfect example of how the female gaze can work within the established framework of cinema. It gives pleasure to the audience through the pleasure that Lynn takes in from observing her surroundings.
Amanda is covering the 2015 Inside Out Festival live from Toronto. For more coverage of the festival, click here.