- The Maid
Directed by Sebastián Silva
Screenplay by Sebastián Silva and Pedro Peirano
Raquel – Catalina Saavedra
Pilar – Claudia Celedón
Lucy – Mariana Loyola
Mundo – Alejandro Goic
Camila – Andrea García-Huidobro
Sonia – Anita Reeves
Abuela – Delfina Guzmán
Mercedes – Mercedes Villanueva
Lucas – Agustín Silva
Awakening from a Life of Servitude
The excellent Chilean black comedy The Maid opens with a scene that should represent joy – a surprise birthday celebration. The upper-class Valdez family is attempting to surprise their maid, Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), on her 41st birthday with a cake and gifts. Sitting alone in the adjacent kitchen, Raquel, with her wild mane of black curls and fixed scowl, is wise to their plans. She’s worked for them for twenty-three years and her heavy gaze seems to suggest that this happens year after year without variation. When they ask her to come into the dining room, she refuses. She’s content, it seems, to spend this day like the rest, simmering with resentment. When they finally manage to bring her into the dining room and celebrate, she briefly allows the celebration to enter, a momentary smile appears on her face as she feels part of the family. But, soon, when the celebration ends and the family departs to enjoy the rest of their evening without her, her frown resettles, as the maid still has work to do, including the additional dishes brought upon by her own birthday. Such is the complicated relationship between boss and hired help presented by director Sebastián Silva’s superb film, winner of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Jury Prize Dramatic, Special Jury Prize for Acting and a recent Gotham Independent Film Best Feature nominee.
Getting to the root of Raquel’s dissatisfactions takes some time and the film’s pace and direction allows us to both sympathize with Raquel for her twenty-three years of service and question her sanity and fortitude in the face of such monotonous and occasionally absurd work. In fact, her health is already deteriorating early in the film. Severe migraines attack her throughout the day, leaving her dizzy and, occasionally, completely incapacitated. The trigger to these migraines can be anything and the film explores Raquel’s complicated relationships with several family members as a source. There’s Camila (Andrea Garcia Huidobro), the eldest of the Valdez children, who continually challenges Raquel’s authority, reminding her that she’s not a third parent, that she’s only “hired help.” While this briefly stings, it’s Raquel’s relationship with the eldest boy, the pubescent Lucas (Agustin Silva) that sincerely affects her. His slightest remark of admiration or condemnation improves or worsens her condition.
Further adding to her problems is the family’s insistence in finding her help. They remind her that she no longer is the young woman who first came to their household and that an additional maid would make her work and her life easier. With the family failing to see that her work and her life are one and the same, they proceed in introducing a sweet girl from Peru, Mercedes (Mercedes Villaneueva), to the household. This might as well be an invasion, as far as Raquel is concerned. Raquel attacks Mercedes any chance she gets. She treats Mercedes like a filthy dog, disinfecting anything they share and constantly questioning her every move.
Soon Mercedes resigns and the family decides to bring in a much tougher bird, Sonia (Anita Reeves). Sonia is a lifer; she’s old and mean, she snarls in her cynicism and she ain’t about to take any of Raquel’s shenanigans. It’s these dueling sequences between Raquel and Sonia that are some of the most humorous and revealing, as they allow us to understand the lengths Raquel will attempt to protect her position within the Valdez household.
When Raquel vanquishes Sonia, the family introduces yet another maid, Lucy (Mariana Loyola). Third time is the charm as Lucy is different. Whereas the other maids have no identity outside their work, Lucy has plenty going for her. She jogs in the morning, she sings loudly in the shower and she talks openly about anything, though mostly about the family she misses on the other side of the country. When Raquel attempts her previous tricks on Lucy, Lucy confronts Raquel with hugs and tears of sympathy, asking Raquel over and over “What have they done to you?” It’s Lucy’s unique take on life, her ability to confront Raquel’s pettiness with kindness and her exuberant appreciation of life’s possibilities that finally bring Raquel face to face with her own dreary situation.
It’s in this last third of the film that Catalina Saavedra’s performance as Raquel carries the film to excellence. Raquel’s character could easily have devolved into caricature. Instead, Saavedra allows her to experience these newly discovered truths with equal measures of joy and regret. Often, it’s just a face – a momentary expression of the eyes and mouth – that say so much about Raquel’s life in the shadows, the years lost to servitude. It’s also this face we see at the end of the film, adjusting to a life worth serving.