The Chilean drama, “The Maid,” scored prizes for Best Foreign Feature and Actress at Sundance last year.
And deservedly so, because of its unique subject matter and an outstanding performance by the lead/title character, Catalina Saavedra.
As the film opens, the camera is severely focused on the hangdog face of Raquel (Saavedra), maid to the Valdez family for more than half of her life. It’s her 41st birthday, and the family coaxes her out of the kitchen and into the dining room to surprise her with gifts and cake. But token gestures don’t fly with Raquel. She eats a bite of cake and refuses to open her gifts in their presence. It’s not that she dislikes the Valdezes. Basically, it’s a moral statement about the class gap in Latin America — they’re Raquel’s family, but not really.
Don’t expect a preachy exposé about the cruelty imposed on domestic servants in foreign countries.
Director Sebastian Silva simply explores the inherent awkwardness that exists between an employer and a live-in employee. The Valdez family is so genuinely concerned about Raquel’s migraines that they hire extra help rather than dismiss her. This is when the fun begins.
The insecure Raquel resorts to tormenting the newly hired co-workers until they quit. But she meets her match in Lucy, the cheerful and humorous equal who soon becomes her friend. Their bond forever changes Raquel’s outlook on life.
Saavedra is fabulous as the taken-for-granted servant who sports a permanent scowl. Raquel’s transformation is incredible to watch. Her facial expressions and body language speak volumes. Mariana Loyola, who plays the spirited Lucy, is also a joy to watch. She has this unshakable aura of happiness, which reminded me so much of Sally Hawkins’ performance in the sweet film, “Happy-Go-Lucky.”
Prior to viewing “The Maid,” I was expecting a movie about exploitation and revenge. Instead, I found it to be one of those small films, which has lots to say. Silva celebrates the healing power of love, the value of friendship and the immense impact that human beings can have upon one another.
— Pam Nadon
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