Published Feb 25, 2010Many movies have been made about the descent into antisocial behaviour, whether it's a large-scale social depiction in a Fight Club and Clockwork Orange kind of way or that of the individual, in the case of Donnie Darko and Revolution #9. But aside from Hal Hartley's particular oeuvre of dry, caustic misfit odysseys, few films on the subject have attempted to make slapstick out of, and heart-warming, the subject of impending psychosis, which is exactly what Sebastian Silva's 2009 Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Film does.
Aptly titled, The Maid details the titular oddball's increasingly erratic antics with a goofy dynamic. The problem with Raquel (Catalina Saavedra) is that she fancies herself one of the family, despite being little more than a reliable employee. She battles with the teenage daughter and talks back to her overly kind employer, Pilar (Claudia Celedon), eventually suffering physical manifestations of psychic pain, leading to the hiring of a second maid.
Perceiving this hire as a slight, Raquel tortures the new maid through excessive condescension, intentional miscommunications and even locking her out of the house. While these actions are disturbing, they are handled with a jovial tone, even though Saavedra plays the material with an unsettling and powerful intensity. It keeps perspective off kilter, to say the least.
Where normally this form of narrative would lead to ritual family slaughter and a cackling psychopath, this optimistic character piece delves into the evaluation and acceptance of a deluded reality, with secondary players merely acting as one-offs to support this enlightenment. Even though the eventual third act resolution doesn't quite mesh with the preceding, there is something appealing and unique about this Chilean import on the whole.
Apparently, writer/director Sebastian Silva dedicated this film to the maids he had while growing up, going so far as to shoot the film in his family home, with their bedroom serving as Raquel's. Perhaps this is why there is an insight as to the psychology, but very little about employer/employee relations. We understand that talking back to an employer is naughty, true, but never get a sense of an internal power structure to ground this within the film. (Mongrel Media)