Lynn (Vicky Krieps), a shy, introverted young woman works as a maid at a hotel. Her obsessive-compulsive tendencies drive her to clean each room more thoroughly than any other employee. Yet going through the motions, she struggles to dispel an emotional void. Meaningless sexual liaisons with glum sadsack Heinz (Steffen Munster), the hotel manager, prove fruitless. When the married Heinz ends the affair Lynn barely feels anything. Thereafter she indulges her voyeuristic impulses and takes to hiding under beds to spy on guests. In one such incident Lynn spies on a dominatrix named Chiara (Lena Lauzemis) performing S&M acts upon a client (Christian Aumer). It inspires Lynn to contact Chiara herself and nervously partake in some S&M sex-play in the hope of finally forging some kind of emotional connection.
Adapted from Markus Orths' novel 'Das Zimmermädchen' The Chambermaid Lynn was lumped in with the burgeoning wave of lesbian love stories that followed in the wake of the internationally acclaimed French film: Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013). Hearteningly while the likes of Spain's Liz in September (2014), the Lithuanian The Summer of Snagaile (2015) and French-made Summertime (2015) all deal with lesbian relationships, rather than rely on a one-note gimmick each tells an individual story. The same holds true for The Chambermaid Lynn which is not strictly a love story. Nor, one hastens to add, is it a 'sex film' per se despite frank scenes of sexual intimacy and nudity. Rather the film deals with sexual unorthodoxy, specifically sadomasochism, as a source of emotional fulfillment for the introverted, obsessive-compulsive or plain socially awkward.
From the onset we see Lynn struggle to forge what comes seemingly naturally to others, whether relationships with co-workers or her mother (Christine Schorn). The latter comes across similarly awkward or reticent about expressing her feelings which, it is implied, is the partial source of Lynn's problems. The film posits Lynn's willing submissive role in sadomasochistic sex play with Chiara provides an emotional release within a controlled environment befitting an obsessive-compulsive such as herself. In this the film is more persuasive than glossy nonsense like Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) albeit imperfect as drama. Filmed in a clinical, detached style to match the heroine's mindset, The Chambermaid Lynn shares a line in morbid humour in common with Secretary (2002), the S&M comedy-drama that provided Maggie Gyllenhaal's breakout role, but its muted, deadpan style is more challenging and occasionally wearying. Now and then the pace picks up along with Lynn's voyeuristic excitement as Ingo Haeb stages a few amusing and/or suspenseful episodes but whenever a relationship seems to be heading somewhere the plot takes a step back into introspection. Which perhaps validates the characterization of the film by German critics as a modern kammerspielfilm or 'chamber drama.'
That the film remains engaging throughout is due in part to its understated empathy for the lonely and marginalized though also the affecting, subtly nuanced performance offered by rising international star Vicky Krieps. The sex scenes tread the line between titillation and frank vulnerability arguably better than Blue is the Warmest Colour. Yet while the film's psychological insights intrigue and move its dispassionate tone resists illuminating its characters quite as well as the more celebrated French film. Grounded for the most part it does break away from sober-minded realism for one Michel Gondry-like dream sequence that stands a touch awkwardly apart from the subdued bulk of the film. To its credit The Chambermaid Lynn avoids a pat rom-com style solution to complex psychological issues opting instead for something close to an emotional reconciliation. Having said that the open-ending may frustrate some viewers given it implies the filmmakers have no clear idea where the story can go from here.