ND/NF: Hired help takes a starring role in The Maid/La Nana
Raquel the laconic, neurotic, and at times sadistic domestic of a well-to-do Chilean family, is not simply the maid, but is the life of Sebastian Silva’s new film The Maid. This very personal film was based on Silva’s own experience growing up in an upper-class household that employed a live-in maid. The story is almost entirely contained in the family house, which is actually the very home in which Silva was raised (and is still inhabited by his parents and younger siblings).
This film’s great strength lies in its incisive portrayal of the character Raquel, perfectly embodied by Catalina Saavedra. Just enough attention is paid to the supporting characters to show how Raquel maneuvers the varying personalities and inhabitants of the household. But the focus is always clear; these characters are simply there to bring out the multifaceted tangle that makes up Raquel’s complex personality and deeply emotional motivations.
On an average day we might see her morph from the curmudgeon who spitefully vacuums in front of Camila’s room to wake her, to the idolizing servant who adoringly tries on her mistress’ beautiful clothing, to the surly head maid who vengefully locks out the new maid so as to prevent her from saving the family’s dinner from burning in the oven. Although the supporting characters function as superficial types, Raquel is meant to be the redemptive protagonist who overrides clichés. She surprises us with the extent of her hate, her jealousy, her vulnerability, her laughter and her eventual generosity. The story is bookended by birthday parties. The first is her own, in which she, abashed by the affection showered on her, curls up in a ball of self-pity. The final party she throws herself, this time out of love and admiration for a friend who has shown her what it is to live.
Out of these mundane and private acts, the psychology of such a person, both Raquel in particular, and the maid in general, is successfully communicated, making the viewer feel these acts, as if they might have performed them themselves. We feel that we could be in her shoes, that we would act, or at least, want to act as she does. She provides us with the opportunity to vicariously take revenge on society for such social structures that place people like Raquel in her situation. We are confronted by the inequity of the system, rather than of the people themselves. The entire family has been programmed to accept and expect the presence of such a role, and call it their humanity or not, they treat her well, care for her and love her the best they can. The masters may ring a bell and expect her to bring them breakfast in bed, and as degrading as that is, on the other hand, the matriarch unconditionally loves and accepts Raquel to the point of favoring her word over her own daughter’s. The film’s commentary on class is nuanced, realistic and is easily swallowed, both by the story at large, as well as by the viewer, which, for better or for worse, makes for a riveting personal drama.