Posted October 30, 2009 by William Dunmyer in Uncategorized

The Maid: Unique Character Study

“The Maid” is a modest, low-budget Chilean film from a relatively unknown writer/director, Sebastian Silva. It is a character study of a lonely, childless, middle-aged maid named Raquel, who is played in an impressively understated and naturalistic way by Catalina Saavedra.

There is a fine line, however, between understated and boring, and “The Maid” unfortunately slides across the line into boring one too many times. But there is some special cinematic work here, and I’m pleased that the film has gotten attention beyond the confines of Chile. It is also nice to see a maid character at the center of a serious film — it’s about time. Maid characters are typically used as comic relief or are just part of the background. Silva really upends this tradition by making Raquel the center of the story and focusing all his attention on her inner life.

Raquel is a live-in maid who has been working for the same suburban family for close to 20 years. The family of six is vibrant and happy, but Raquel seems to be unhappy about something. She has a strange hostility toward the oldest child, which is difficult to watch. It doesn’t appear that the girl has done anything to deserve this mistreatment. When the family hires a second maid to help Raquel, she goes almost insane, locking the new maid out of the house, maniacally disinfecting the bathroom every time the new maid uses it, and abusing the family’s new kitten. The new maid, a delightful young Peruvian woman, quits within a month.

But the lady of the house will not give up. She insists on getting a second maid. So we watch Raquel terrorize yet another servant, but then the third is the charm. The third new maid (played beautifully by Mariana Loyola) breaks through to Raquel. A touching friendship emerges, and we come to learn a lot more about Raquel and about the peculiar emotional challenges of being a live-in maid. Is she part of the family or is she not? Being both in and out is very tough. I had never even considered this.

Silva’s film is not a masterpiece, but it open one’s eyes in a special way and will surely touch everyone who sees it.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.