Wednesday, December 16, 2009
The Maid ***1/2
Director: Sebastián Silva
Cast: Catalina Saavedra, Claudia Celedón, Alejandro Goic
Andrea García-Huidobro, Mariana Loyola, Agustín Silva
Mercedes Villanueva, Anita Reeves
It's refreshing to see a Latin American film that's not about gangs, illegal immigrants, drug trafficking or a lazy attempt to recreate Hollywood genre flicks.
In "The Maid" Sebastián Silva delivers a dark comedy through a social prism that might hit too close to home for some viewers.
Saavedra stars as Raquel, a maid who has been working for an upper middle class Chilean family for more than twenty years.
When the movie starts the family celebrates her birthday and after a moment of joy she remembers that she will have to clean up after her own celebration later.
In a way she's been living a borrowed life where she performs cyclical activities-and has been doing it for who knows how long-but will never be a real part of the family.
"The children adore me" she reassures herself when someone asks her about her life. Weary, bitter and feeling obsolete, Raquel depends on painkillers to get her through the day.
Pilar (Celedón), her employer, notices she's not feeling well and decides to hire extra help to make Raquel's life easier.
But Raquel sees this as an intrusion and makes life a living hell for several women who come to work in her "turf".
The practical solution might seem to dismiss her, but Silva taps onto something very particular of Latin American culture and the family's decision to keep her surprisingly makes sense.
Can it be loyalty, pity, some dark secret, gratefulness or an anthropological phenomenon? Silva doesn't reveal how he makes the film move so smoothly even when it lingers on soap opera territory from time to time.
He ably gives the film a somber mood-Raquel's behavior is borderline psychotic sometimes-and we're always expecting for something to happen, only to have the plot move in a completely different direction.
Much of this is owed to Saavedra's terrific performance. In an ensemble that thrives with naturalistic brilliance, she masters the art of flirting with camp, but pulling back in time to make the character complex and not insane.
As a woman entering her forties she embodies a quiet midlife crisis that lets loose in moments of loneliness. Raquel gets pleasure out of torturing the family's oldest daughter (García-Huidobro) and ignoring new maid Lucy (the fantastic Loyola).
When she decides she's had enough of the family cat she puts him inside a drawer while the family searches frantically. Saavedra treats these scenes with such delicacy that it might cross the viewers mind that they are fantasies.
Her performance makes us question the nature of having servants. These are people we let in as strangers into our homes and usually give for granted.
But they acquire a certain kind of power, the one that comes with knowledge. When Raquel finds conspicuous stains in the eldest son's (Silva) bedsheets every morning, first she smiles feeling that in a way he's confided in her.
Later she's upset she has to wash them daily and tells Pilar. This kind of conflict between the concessions and attributions she's given makes Raquel live in a constant state of limbo.
One that she may be forced, by emotional and economic needs, to live in.