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THE MAID (LA NANA)

reviewed by Robert Troccolo
11.10.2009

The MaidTiburon Filmes/Punto Guion Punto Producciones
95 min., dir. by Sebastián Silva, with Catalina Saavedra, Claudia Celedón, Andrea García-Huidobro, and Mariana Loyola

The Maid is a film made with seemingly limited resources that accomplishes a great deal. It uses only a few locations, employs a relatively small cast, and is shot on video.

Raquel has worked as a maid for an upper-class Chilean family for 23 years. Her family background and backstory is disclosed in a few brief lines late in the film. All we know about her for the first two-thirds of the story is that she lives a shadow life to the family that she serves. She is in her 40s now and, overworked in a house that is too big for her to handle, she suffers headaches and dizzy spells. The family’s mother wants to get her an assistant, but Raquel will not accept this. After the dizzy spells worsen, reinforcements are finally called in with a succession of three maids, each of which Raquel does her best to chase from the house. The final maid, Lucy, begins to penetrate Raquel’s defenses in unexpected ways.

The movie deftly mixes different tones: it is mainly a dramatic character study with many lighthearted comedic moments and a hint of horror. Raquel has a conflict with the family daughter that leads to a disturbing moment with a photo album early on. The fact that Raquel is retained beyond this scene is believable in that she has been with the family for 23 years. Three scenes where Raquel stubbornly locks each of the new maids out of the house are played for comedy. Layered with the comedy though, is the dramatic symbolism that Raquel is locking people from her life. She is also hurting herself physically since these maids would have helped her with the work. Instead, Raquel’s fainting spells worsen because, as she chases another maid away, she must do the job herself.

The dialogue is succinct and varied in its use. Some lines tell only part of the story and it is up to the characters’ actions to paint the rest of the meaning. At other times a succinct line of dialogue is packed with an extraordinary amount of power. An example of dialogue telling only part of the story is seen in the conflict between Raquel and the family’s daughter. At first it seems that Raquel simply dislikes a spoiled, privileged brat. Towards the end of the film, Raquel gets a phone call from her mother and, for the first time, Raquel’s backstory is explored. Raquel has years of pent-up guilt because she believes herself a bad daughter. Perhaps Raquel sees herself in the family’s daughter and this is the reason for their conflict. An example of a line that contains a lot of meaning and power occurs right after Lucy arrives. Raquel tries to insult Lucy by disinfecting the bathroom after Lucy is done using it. Lucy then delivers a single line that is unexpectedly devastating. Through the force of this one line, we realize that Lucy is different from the previous two maids.

The film makes an interesting structural choice which not every viewer will agree with. The first act establishes Raquel’s daily routine and place in the house; the second act shows her rejecting the first two maids. In the third act, Lucy arrives and Raquel begins to change. The film essentially reboots here; the story is no longer about a stubborn maid but a stubborn maid that meets her match. An interesting question could be: why not have Lucy arrive much earlier and have the film be about Raquel and Lucy’s relationship? Or conversely, why have this longer third act at all: why not just continue with the tone of the first two acts? The critique the film’s structure is that it might feel like we are watching two separate films. The justification for the film’s structure is that it sets up a comparison in which we see each maid’s method of dealing with Raquel. The best method then becomes part of the film’s theme. In the case of the first two maids: the first is overly meek and the second is rough and tough. Neither of these maids is able to penetrate Raquel’s defenses. With Lucy, we see the method that works: compassion.

The Maid is a solid film that accomplishes much with few resources. It mixes tones, utilizes economic dialogue to powerful effect, and has an interesting structure. It also shows us a world that we don’t normally see.

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