The Maid

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 January, 2011, 12:00am

The Maid
Catalina Saavedra, Claudia Celedon, Andrea Garcia-Huidobro
Director: Sebastian Silva

Released to critical acclaim and nominated for a Golden Globe in 2009, Chilean director Sebastian Silva's film provides the interloper-in-the-family genre with a twist: rather than having a newcomer arrive to rock the cradle, The Maid's antagonist's existence precedes most of her 'masters' in the household: Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), in her early 40s, has served as a domestica in an affluent Santiago family for more than two decades, overseeing the birth and growth of the four children of her benign bourgeois employers Mundo (Alejandro Goic) and Pilar (Claudia Celedon).

While nominally the maid, Raquel exerts implicit control in the house: she regulates her employers' lives and knows their intimate details; she hoards food and tries on clothes when nobody's looking; and she's an anchor for everyone.

Her increasingly ghastly behaviour - during dizzy spells caused by the excessive chlorine she uses in cleaning - is resignedly tolerated by Pilar and the son Lucas (Agustin Silva), whose affection for Raquel brims on the edge of desire. The only one confronting Raquel is eldest daughter Camila (Andrea Garcia Huidobro).

Shot entirely on handheld camera within the tight spaces of Silva's own home, The Maid bubbles with tension. As Raquel's physical and mental state deteriorates - resulting in her persecution of nearly every additional servant Pilar brings in to help - the film becomes increasingly taut.

Saavedra's performance is masterly, displaying Raquel's twisted mentality as she feels herself losing ground in a place she considers her territory. The Maid serves as a metaphor for recent Chilean history, with Raquel representing Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. Just like the maid, Pinochet ruled his patch for more than 20 years, his excesses rarely challenged by the privileged classes. And, as the younger generation rebelled, the generalissimo manoeuvred to dispatch anyone challenging his rule.

Unlike Pinochet, Raquel and her employers see the light in a final denouement, which sees the maid liberated from her tyrannical demeanour by a caring, younger successor Lucy (Mariana Loyola). Silva suggests changes abound for Raquel, and it's an open-ended optimism which enriches rather than undermines The Maid.

Extras: on the set featurette, TV spots.