Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week looking for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent… this week we’re spending some time with the South American working class.
Racquel (Catalina Saavedra) works as a live-in maid for a well to do family, and her duties run the gamut of cooking, cleaning, and child care. She’s introduced hiding in the kitchen as the family tries in vain to cajole her into the dining room to celebrate her own 41st birthday. She’s been a maid to this same family for twenty three years, she’s suffering from migraines and fainting spells, she’s been butting heads with the oldest daughter, and her face is stuck in a permanent grimace.
Racquel is one tired and frustrated Chilean.
Sympathetic to Racquel’s condition and concerned with her increasing attitude, Pilar (Claudia Celedón) decides to bring in additional help to lighten the maid’s burden. But Racquel sees it as not only a judgment on her performance but also as an infringement on her turf. As each new servant tries to make herself at home Racquel immediately goes on the offensive. She locks them out of the house, sabotages their credibility, and actually gets into at least one physical brawl. Into this madhouse comes Lucy, the latest temporary maid but the first to show Racquel kindness and humor even through Racquel’s cruelty. Will this new friendship be enough to stop Racquel’s spiral into depression and identity loss? Or will she just toss Lucy off the roof and be done with it…
Writer/director Sebastián Silva has crafted a sharp and darkly humorous look at class relations, but he’s couched it in a tale of personal struggle. Or he’s made a film about one woman’s continual fight to find value in herself and in her position in life, but he’s paired it with a dollop of social commentary. Regardless of how it’s framed, The Maid is a story about relationships, both the ones we find ourselves in as well as the ones that find us. It’s interested in the choices we all make through our lives that get us in and out of various situations, and Racquel is forced to face these decisions head on if she wants to stay sane and healthy.
Racquel’s entire adult life has been with and as almost part of this family, and the possibility of that slipping away forces her to confront the idea of a life without them. As the oldest daughter grows out of needing Racquel the maid moves her attention on to the handsome teen boy. She flatters him and cheers for his magic tricks, but when he stops reciprocating her dark side comes out and she reacts with the same petty jealousy that has caused friction with the sister. She refuses to share food with the kids, she intentionally vacuums outside their door early in the morning, she embarrasses the boy by revealing his sheets are the victim of nightly wet dreams…
All of the performances here are solid, but Saavedra truly owns the film with her unflattering but honest and fierce portrayal of a woman on edge. Racquel’s focus is on her job, but she has her own family troubles that are only glimpsed in brief moments where her guard comes down. It’s a powerful humanity behind the scowl that is also seen in fleeting smiles here and there. Saavedra also provides most of the film’s biting comedy as she plots her next move against the family or the new maids. Devious gears turn behind her wild eyes and beneath her even wilder hair, and her expressions react to petty but priceless little victories. She’s a tough character to love, but by film’s end it’s her personal victory that the viewer will be rooting for.
Silva’s film and Saavedra’s performance combine for a fantastic character study that also manages to entertain with blackly comic wit and a smart observation on life. It moves through various genres and expectations but manages to conclude in the best way possible. You wouldn’t want to hire Racquel to be your maid, but you should invite The Maid into your home all the same.
The Maid is available on DVD in the US from Oscilloscope and in the UK from Artificial Eye.