“The Chambermaid” (“Das Zimmermädchen Lynn”)
Lynn (Vicky Krieps) is a chambermaid in a hotel and probably one of the dullest people around. She has sex with her boss mechanically and clinically when he needs sex and together they are not a pretty picture. Then there is the fact that she likes to spy on the hotel guests…by hiding under their beds as they go about their daily business. While she is creepy, she is also dumb. But something is about to change.
Ingo Haeb’s bringing together an obsessive-compulsive chambermaid and an androgynous dominatrix is liberating for Lynn. I have seen several films with fetishes within them but nothing that is played with such intense attention to detail as this. It is obvious that Haeb does not try to draw viewers into his heroine’s point of view— he simply observes her strange behavior, with a remarkable lack of prurience or judgment, as Lynn explores the private minutiae of other people’s lives. Cleaning is less of a job for shy, unprepossessing Lynn than a true vocation since her all-consuming passion is living through others. She rarely interacts with others, yet is endlessly curious about how others live, inspecting their habits with a strange kind of interest generally reserved for other species. Yet, she tries on their clothes (men’s as well as women’s), examines the pictures in their wallets and reads the inscriptions on their rings and she even hides beneath their beds to observe them unseen.
One day, Lynn watches an exchange between a hotel guest and a prostitute, her floor-level vantage point shows a woman’s black stockings and stiletto heels, which run up and down the man’s bare leg before pressing down hard into his unprotected foot. Intrigued and excited by what she has glimpsed, Lynn hires the woman, the dominatrix Chiara (Lena Lauzemis), to visit her at home.
What follows has less to do with Sade/masochism than with a slow, careful initiation into intimacy. Chiara seems to know just how to gently nudge her client into accepting, then welcoming, her touch and soon their sex-for-hire transactions become something deeper with their lovemaking becoming a unique blend of force and tenderness. Lynn learns to interact directly with another human being while Chiara discovers a genuine liking for her pupil. Chiara finds Lynn’s strictly regimented routine amusing and Lynn is bemused by the lack of structure in Chiara’s freelance lifestyle.
The two actresses complement each other physically as well as psychologically. At first, Lynn’s old-fashioned hairstyle and mousy appearance is in contrast dramatically with Chiara’s blonde coif and leather ensembles. Chiara’s attraction to Lynn leaves her more vulnerable until Lynn gains a level of parity.
Luxembourg actress Vicky Krieps gives a terrific performance as Lynn and I am sure she will be mentioned around award time. This is the story of a mind numbing yet comforting routine of a mousy hotel cleaner that becomes upset when she finds herself hiding underneath the bed of a guest during a session of light BDSM.
It’s clear that Lynn’s sexual relationship with her boss is nothing more than a business transaction entirely devoid of any feelings. She feels that as long as she can stay busy, she is useful and has a sense of self-worth.
We see Lynn as someone who needs to cling to what she knows in order to at least feel safe, though routines, places and objects initially seem preferable to people. However, as the film progresses and Lynn is seen handling guests’ objects and then secretly begins to spy on them in their rooms, it slowly becomes clear that she’s starting to find other people fascinating.
Through Chiara, Lynn learns that pain doesn’t necessarily have to be negative and that intimacy can happen in a context that’s a lot more controlled than in real life.