[original title: La Nana]
“The maid” in this film is Raquel (played by Catalina Saavedra), who has been working as a live-in maid for an affluent Chilean family for over 20 years.
This is a small family household in a medium-sized house – so it is not your upstairs-downstairs situation audience might know from the likes of Downtown Abbey. Those manor house arrangements have two separate groups of people who lead their own, separate lives. Raquel is the lone servant and is living with the family. The awkwardness of this situation – being “part of the family” yet at the same time clearly not being one of them – feeds a lot of the atmosphere in this film. That feeling is also mirrored by the tagline found on English-language film posters: “She is more or less family”.
Caring for a household with two working parents and four children who all cause their own sets of troubles is getting increasingly burdensome for Raquel, who is suffering increasingly from migraines and is taking more and more painkillers. She is keeping the extent of her ill-health to herself and is vehemently resisting the idea of having any additional, part-time help in the house, as she seemingly fears for her unrivalled position and for her job.
It pains me to say this, but I really did not like this film. I caught it on TV, but had I actually paid to see this I would be outright annoyed.
The problem with this film is not that it is slow-paced. Readers of this blog know that I have seen my fair share of slow-paced films. The problem with The Maid is that there is no plot and no fleshed-out characters. There are a number of characters we only meet briefly, and some supporting characters about whom we never learn much beyond the surface. That leaves Raquel as the only prominent character in the entire story, which is no help as she is deliberately written as an enigma. Raquel comes across as a rather depressed person. A fall-out with her own family is hinted at, but never explained. And there is a scene that indicates that she seems to harbour quite a bit of resentment, which is again not followed up on. Throughout this film, we never learn what kind of person Raquel actually is.
So apparently this film, written and directed by Sebastián Silva, is not a character study. It is not a social critique either, as many people claim, because apart from the fact that Raquel’s relationship with the family she works for is a bit awkward, nothing else points in that direction. Instead, I believe that this film is intended to be a “slice-of-life” tale. But that does not work particularly well either. Raquel has absolutely no life of her own – which is sort of the point of the story. But since she is also something of a non-character, there is just nothing here that this “slice-of-life” approach could show us. You could not even describe it as a minimalist tale, as too many things are put into this film, even if nothing much is really happening.
This film is roughly 90 minutes long, but the only developments that might to lead to some sort of plot (they don’t, by the way) take place after the one-hour mark. And that sort of development, particularly the “agent of change”, comes out of the blue, is completely at odds with anything we have seen from Raquel so far, and is thus entirely unearned.
The acting is very good, but there is nothing here that could save this film.
Apart from the acting, I also liked the cinematography by Sergio Armstrong (Neruda; No; The Desert Bride). The camera mostly doubles as an observer. The shots are made as if the viewer was person inside the household witnessing the daily life.
The Maid is a film with non-characters being involved in a non-story. So maybe it should not come as a surprise that is has also a non-ending. If you can gain anything from the film’s ending it is that there is a microscopic change in Raquel’s life – which would represent the only minimalist element in this film that actually works.
If this film has any form of message, it entirely eluded me. No matter if you want to read this film as a character study, a minimalist tale, or a “slice-of-life” story, it is vastly inferior to the likes of Whisky or Duck Season.
Rating: 4.5 out of 10.