Raquel (Catalina Saavedra) has worked for a prosperous Chilean family for 23 years, cleaning the house, cooking meals and taking care of the day-to-day running of their home. However, she is plagued by two things - violent headaches and, especially, offers by her mistress, Pilar (Claudia Celedon), to hire someone to help “The Maid.”
Catalina Saaverda is the unlikely heroine in this solid, well-made story that makes you think it is going one way as it takes you down a different, unexpected path. There appear to be secrets held between Raquel, her employer, Pilar, and her son, Lucas (Agustin Silva). You are suspicious that something happened 20 years ago or, then again, maybe not. When Mercedes (Mercedes Villanueva), the new helper, is hired, Raquel treats her “like a dog” and, eventually, is responsible for the younger woman being fired.
Mercedes is replaced by Sonia (Anita Reeves), an experienced maid, about Raquel’s age, who will not put up with any of her co-worker’s crap. Sonia does not stay long. Then, Lucy (Mariana Loyola) arrives at the time when Raquel, recovering from a sudden collapse, really needs help around the house. The taciturn maid initially eschews Lucy but is soon taken by the woman’s kindness, charm and ability. They become friends but this soon ends when Lucy says she must leave. Raquel’s experiences, especially with Lucy, prove to be the catharsis she needs to puts her back on track with life.
“The Maid” is one of my top hopes for Oscar consideration this year for, at least, best foreign language film. Catalina Saavedra is terrific and deserves attention giving one of the best actress performances this year.
Good acting (great by Saavedra) and a compelling, sympathetic script keep you guessing (usually erroneously) what is going to happen. Writer/director Sebastian Silva, though, does not insult with his deft, sleight-of-hand storytelling, making this a wonderfully well-rounded story that never condescend but ascends. I give it a B+.
In Santiago, Chile, a sullen Raquel (Catalina Saavedra) eats her dinner alone in the kitchen, but in the dining room the family she's served for twenty-three years quietly sets up her surprise birthday party. Raquel is happy until Pilar (Claudia Celedón) suggests that the house and family are getting too big for her to manage alone. There are a lot of unspoken issues between Raquel and her adopted family, but she remains adamant that she and she alone is "The Maid."
Writer/director Sebastián Silva uses a documentary shooting style that works to create an intimate, slightly unsettling portrait of a domestic on the edge. "The Maid" keeps us guessing throughout as Raquel acts out her little revenges while family matriarch Pilar staunchly defends her. There are suggestions that Raquel may possibly be the mother of one or more of the children that are never confirmed. Or maybe Raquel just has deep-seated confidence issues.
Pilar is a busy college professor whose husband Mundo (Al Franken lookalike Alejandro Goic) works on a ship in a bottle when he isn't sneaking out to play golf. Camila (Andrea García-Huidobro), the eldest, thinks Raquel is 'a looney.' Raquel notes the stains on Lucas' (Agustín Silva) sheets and is the patient audience for his magic tricks. The younger son and daughter are more in the background.
Pilar brings young Peruvian Mercedes (Mercedes Villanueva) home and gives her the responsibility of downstairs and the kitchen while Raquel will maintain the upstairs and the children. Mercedes is quickly accepted when she agrees to help take care of Camila's new cat, but Pilar quickly disposes of both. When Pilar's mother Abuela (Delfina Guzmán) firmly offers a new maid, the older Sonia (Anita Reeves) who arrives appears to be Raquel's match, but Raquel manages to unseat her as well. But the vibrant college student Lucy (Mariana Loyola) gains Raquel's attention by siding with her in private and inviting her to her family home at the holidays.
This psychological study succeeds because it refuses to provide all the answers. We see Pilar fondly poring over old photos in which Raquel appears as mother figure with baby Camila or subtlely upstages her with body language. Raquel tries on one of Pilar's delicate sweaters and then purchases the same one for herself. The procession of 'helper' maids is like the story of the three bears. Mercedes is too young and too likely to bond with the children. Sonia is too old and too likely to exert discipline over them. Raquel's warrior-like defense of her position is only let down when Lucy suggests the family has taken advantage of her. And then Silva breaks the bond to complete Raquel's character arc.
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