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Movie Trailer courtesy E! Online

by Jan E. Morris

If the name of the great ship sparks your interest, follow the allure of Titanic. If you are an American movie goer who struggles with the idea of foreign film, make an exception for La Femme de chambre du Titanic. If you are bored of insisting upon instant gratification, dare to delve into a sensuous and erotic new world of fantasy …

Bigas Luna's latest screenplay is not so much a tapestry of Titanic as it is a study of the mythology its legend endures. The filmmakers create an evolution of light and color to tell a story of the bleak realities of the poor working class of rural Europe in the early twentieth century, contrasted by the rich and vivid imagery of fantasy.

In the spring of 1912, Horty (The Horseman on the Roofs' Olivier Martinez) wins, once again, an annual contest of strength at the foundry where he works in northern France. He was heavily favored to win by his colleagues, as well as by the owner of the foundry who had his own reasons to want to see Horty win the first prize of a trip to England for the celebration surrounding Titanic's ill-fated departure … Horty is forced to travel alone, leaving his wife, Zoe (Savage Nights' Romane Bohringer) behind in France.

As Horty settles into his plush hotel room in Southampton, he answers a knock to find a beautiful young woman standing at his door. Marie (A Walk in the Clouds' Aitana Sánchaz Gijón) has been hired as a chambermaid on the Titanic and all the rooms in the hotel are rented. She explains that the hotel desk suggested that Horty might be persuaded to give up his room to a lady in distress. Horty is a little vexed by her request, and upon seeing his hesitation, she quickly apologies and turns to leave. He stops her and suggests that they might work out an acceptable arrangement. Late into the night the beguiling Marie attempts to seduce Horty, but he manages to resist her charms, except in his dreams. In the morning, Horty wakes to find himself alone and is drawn to the dock by the sound of Titanic. From a distance, he recognizes Marie posing for a photographer. As the ship leaves port, Horty buys the photograph as a keepsake.

Things have changed back home and Horty is told he has been promoted to a new job in the foundry. His friends at the local pub make suggestions that Zoe is having an affair with his boss. Horty takes out Marie's photograph to pour over his lost opportunity, but is interrupted by one of his friends demanding to know who this beautiful chambermaid is. He begins with an innocent explanation, but no one wants to believe the truth. Horty, still tormented by Zoe's betrayal, and his own faithfulness, begins to tell an eloquently erotic tale of his night of passion in one of the luxurious rooms on the Titanic. When the news of Titanic's sinking reaches the town and Marie is not among the list of survivors, Horty becomes an instant tragic hero. Each night at the pub, the crowds grow larger and the intensity of Horty's story swells, the whole countryside is enthralled with his power of suggestion.

The Chambermaid on the Titanic is a testament to the lost art of romance, the fine line between fantasy and reality, and the sheer terror of the possibility of the fulfillment of one's fantasies. Regrettably, many of the French delicacies of the storytelling are lost in the English subtitles. That aside, the characters become beautiful in their turn of the century attire. Olivier Martinez is brilliant as the evolving actor, if initially a bit subdued. One of the best kept secrets in France, Olivier has that rare gift of poetic stares and breathtaking body language; subtleties the most devoted of old world romantics will find intoxicating. Romane Bohringer is perfect as Zoe, seduced by the lure of money and repelled by jealously and what it causes her to lose. Aitana Sánchaz Gijón is entrancing as the adored chambermaid. The simplistic style of "The Chambermaid on the Titanic" is commendably refreshing.

Olivier Martinez

Internet Movie Database

**** The Chambermaid on the Titanic ( La Femme de chambre du Titanic)

Romane Bohringer: Zoe
Olivier Martinez: Horty
Aitana Sánchaz Gijón: Marie

A Samuel Goldwyn release of a French-Italian-Spanish coproduction
96 Minutes. Not rated by MPAA. French with English subtitles.

Winner 1998 Goya Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Costume Design

photography copyrighted by Samuel Goldwyn all rights reserved

review copyright 1998 Jan E. Morris