June 24, 2010

The Maid

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ****

The maid, Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), has a rather severe face. Her permanent frown has forced her jaw to jut out into something like a snout, and her dark eyes are nearly crazy from routine and exhaustion. It's a face that would make you want to turn away if you ran into it in a dark alley, but watching it onscreen is a different matter. Especially since director Sebastián Silva is smart enough to show her in various states of mind; she's not evil or crazy. She's partly uncertain, party insecure. There's something human inside this creature with the defiant stare.

The excellent, darkly funny Chilean film The Maid opens, vérité style, with Raquel sullenly eating her dinner, apart from the family she works for. But it's her birthday, and the family summons her in the dining room for presents and cake. They include the wife Pilar (Claudia Celedón), teenage daughter Camila (Andrea García-Huidobro), teenage son Lucas (Agustín Silva), two younger kids, and the professorial father Mundo (Alejandro Goic), who spends hours and hours building model ships. Raquel shyly and reluctantly accepts some gifts, and returns to the kitchen.

themaidDuring the scene, it is revealed that Lucas is her "favorite." We also learn that Raquel has been with this family for decades and helped raise all the kids. Whenever the subject of dismissing her comes up, Pilar merely answers, "I can't." Raquel herself isn't quite clear on just how much she belongs to this family; she sometimes feels as if the kids are partly hers, but at other times, she's a total outsider. These feelings are intensified -- assisted by Saavedra's uncanny, facially expressive performance -- when Raquel begins having dizzy spells, and help must be hired. Will Raquel lose her family to the new person? First up is the shy, young Mercedes (Mercedes Villanueva); Raquel quickly makes her feel unwelcome, locking her out of the house, for example. (There's also an incident with a kitten that's best left unmentioned.)

Ultimately Raquel's loyalty to the family and their love for her is tested in new ways, however, and even as things smooth out, we're still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Director Silva shoots on what seems rather like uncomely hand-held video, but he always manages to slip in his camera exactly where it's needed, catching clandestine moments even when other characters miss them. He also does a fine job of building expectations and then turning them sideways. There's a fair amount of genre subversion at work here, given the number of movies out there about psychotic maids and the clash between upstairs and downstairs, including Sister, My Sister (1994) and Murderous Maids (2000). The Maid does a wonderful job of blurring the line and expectations, opening up new possibilities for relationships between masters and servants.

Oscilloscope has released the new DVD, including a behind-the-scenes featurette, storyboards and a photo gallery.

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Posted by cphillips at June 24, 2010 3:24 PM
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