The premises of the French movie "Servant and Mistress," an account of folie a deuz , might have been amusing if engineered for bedroom farce. Calculated for enigmatic eroticism and hothouse heatbreak; its merely a fleeting hoot.
Now at the K-B Studio, the movie opens in the luxurious bedroom of a country mansion as an infirm old party breathes his last, attended by a stolid, apple-munching chambermaid who reacts with what appears to be a thin smile of satisfaction.Subsequent events try to explain the source of her smugness. A sporty, complacent young gentleman, presently identified as the nephew of the deceased, arrives to claim his inheritance. After stringing him along for a day or so, the chambermaid reveals that uncle left her his estate, leaving nephew penniless.
The rest of the movie depends on the audience remaining inert enough to accept the idea that the disillusioned nephew will consent to become the manservant of the erstwhile domestic, who subjects him to a series of humiliations designed to get even for the way he used to lord it over her. Evidently, the wages of such role-reversing despotism are death. After her ultimate act of revenge - forcing nephew to perform a sex act on a gigolo she has hired - the overextended new mistress feels so revulsed that she takes a dose of sleeping pills. At the fadeout one is left with the distinct impression that while nephew may know little shame, he'll probably get the estate on the rebound.
Purged of sadomasochistic morbidity, this situation might have provided a cleverly artificial starting point for a comedy with, say, William Powell and Carole Lombard or Charles Boyer and Claudette Colbert, back in the '30s. Director Bruno Gantillon has no discernible comic flair. Since he also lacks parnographic flair, the only other thing likely to salvage the premise, his movie is pretty much doomed to self-suffocation.
The story as formulated by Domi nique Fabre never bridges an enormous motivational gap. Why does the dispossessed nephew agree to cooperate with the vindictive chambermaid? The initital explanations that he can't contest the will and needs money desperately don't play, in part because there's no hint of urgency in Victor Lanoux's bemused, heavy-lidded portrait of aristocratic self-assurance as the nephew.
The underlyong explanation - that the nephew reaaly loves the chambermaid and hopes to purge his guilty feelings by seeing her through her revenge - won't work either, for want of sexual rapport between Lanoux and Andrea Ferreol, a bulky, fleshy, square-visaged actress who always looks abject and inconsolable. At best Lanoux seems to be condescending to a benighted product of the lower classes, which appear pathetically incapable of acquiring a little class the person of Andres Ferreol.
It doesn't take much imagination to realize how absurd the movie's "pathos" would look if an acress as desirable and invigorating as the young Sophia Loren of Brigitte Bardot turned up as the chambermaid endowing the lower classes with natural advantages.