Academic journal article Creative Forum

From Page to Screen: A Study of Octave Mirbeau's the Diary of a Chambermaid and the Screen Adaptations by Jean Renoir_and Luis Bunuel

Academic journal article Creative Forum

From Page to Screen: A Study of Octave Mirbeau's the Diary of a Chambermaid and the Screen Adaptations by Jean Renoir_and Luis Bunuel

Article excerpt

The study of film adaptation is a subject without frontiers that has always been a challenge to viewers and critics alike. The question of adaptation becomes all the more interesting, when two giant filmmakers like Jean Renoir and Luis Bunuel took interest and adapted the same novel, Octave Mirbeau's The Diary of a Chambermaid (1900).

This paper proposes to study the novel and the two adaptations--Jean Renoir's English film, The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) and Luis Bunuel French film, le Journal d'une Femme de Chambre (1964), in order to bring out the basic similarities and dissimilarities in both the Medias. The discussion will center around various theoretical discourses on cinema and adaptation. I begin with a short introduction to the concept of literature, film and adaptation. In the second part of the paper, I explore the transmutation of Mirbeau's novel to Renoir's and Bunuel's films, focusing on the question of context, history, ideology and politics. In the last part, I examine the idea of cinematic enunciation (the question of language and cinematic techniques).

The visible similarities in both the medias are ample. What is of supreme importance in both literature and films is the idea of seeing be it a mental image or a visual image. In fact, like cinema, literature also aims at representing an image. As Joseph Conrad states,

   My task which I am trying to achieve is by the powers of the
   written Word, to make you hear, to make you feel- it is, before all
   to make to see. (1)

Further, both the media contain "symbolic" and "Iconic" signs. A novel works primarily with symbolic signs, where the reader's imagination reigns supreme. The written word, as Robert Stam says,

   Brings with it the aura of scripture, is said to be intrinsically a
   more subtle and precise medium for the delineation of thoughts
   and--feelings. (p. 12)

In this "subtle" medium, the plot and character development can be more extensive than in the film and more can be left to the imagination of the reader. The reader is an active participant while for the viewer; the work of visualization has already been performed.

In a film, on the other hand, the iconic signs can be easily perceived owing to the visual nature of cinema. The fundamental difference then lies in one medium using the language of words while the other plays with the language of images. However, in the case of foreign film (as Bunuel's, le Journal d'une femme de chambre) the use of subtitles brings it closer to a literary text thus blurring any clear distinction between the two Medias.

Literature has always been an inspirational factor for many filmmakers, who have generously adapted literary masterpieces as well as the lesser-known works. When an adaptation is based on a popular classic, the filmmaker is under tremendous pressure, lest the film be called a betrayal of a great work. On the other hand, when filmmakers decide to work on relatively obscure literary works, they escape the burden of comparison imposed by the critical preconceptions often brought to the viewing of a film based on an accepted literary masterpiece. Thus, they obtain more freedom to experiment with both content and form that enables them in the creation of an individual piece of art, far removed aesthetically, ideologically and politically from the source material.

Whenever a novel is adapted into a film, it undergoes "selective interpretation" at the hands of the filmmaker, who changes the narrative to dramatic, and the descriptive to presentational. The filmmaker compresses a voluminous piece of literary work into a one or a two-hour film. This means that sub plots, extraneous characters, and arid episodes not directly relevant to the development of the main story line need to be deleted. This is indeed a very daunting task and herein lies the director's talent in Sifting the source material and yet retaining the essence of the work or consciously modifying it in order to voice a different set of concerns. …

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