It’s never easy to watch a film where the lead character is an extremely unlikable person but if you are able to make it through “The Maid” what you will see is a fascinating examination of the class system in Chile. In the film Catalina Saavedra plays an angry and bitter housekeeper to an upper-middle class Chilean family torn between her love for the family she’s been a part of for decades but resentful of her place on the outside and lack of a real family of her own.
At more then one point in this film I asked myself why, if this woman is so horrible and doing such terrible things, wouldn’t the family she works for just fire her? But the answer to that question is complicated and can be found at the heart of filmmaker Sebastian Silva’s film. In “The Maid,” Raquel is a live-in servant for over twenty-years who spends her time cleaning, cooking and taking care of an upper-class family living in Chile. When we first meet Raquel she is bitter and extremely unhappy with her life. She’s coming to terms with the fact that she’s spent the better part of her life in service to this family and raising children that do not belong to her. What does she have to show for it? No husband or family, no house or garden to call he own and ever increasing and crippling headaches that make doing her job more and more difficult.
In addition, her relationship with the oldest daughter is waning and that is putting stress on the rest of the household. Pilar played by Claudia Celedon, the matriarch of the family, decides to hire a second maid to help Raquel with her chores. However, that goes terribly wrong as Raquel does everything she can to sabotage the new maid. This includes locking her out of the house, disinfecting the toilet and bathtub every time she uses it and torturing a kitten that the new maid and the children have adopted. Eventually, Raquel wins out and the new maid is let go leading Pilar to hire a no-none-sense veteran housekeeper who formally worked for her Mother. Raquel’s difficult nature leads to trouble once again and this new maid resigns due to frustrations with Raquel. After Raquel’s headaches leave her hospitalized the family is forced to take in yet another maid, Lucy (Marianna Loyola) an outgoing and free-spirited woman, to replace Raquel while she’s sick and help her with her recovery. At first Raquel has difficulty dealing with her new role as a patient as supposed to the caregiver but Lucy will not go down as easily as the other maids, eventually melting down Raquel’s tough exterior and becoming her friend. What unfolds is a friendship and understanding that transcends Raquel’s life and makes her role in the Valdez family an easier undertaking.
Director Silva has an interesting outlook on the world featured in his film as he lived much of it growing up. Coming from an upper class Chilean family himself much of the film is drawn from his own life experiences growing up in a household full of servants. The film was actually shot in the house where he grew up and his youngest brother plays the oldest son in the movie. In fact, Raquel’s room in the movie is actually the room where his family maid’s lived while he was growing up. The film puts a real mirror up to the class system in Chile, and around the world and the way we treat those who work for us. But the true question at the heart of the film is, what is family? How do you treat a person who lives in your home, shares a life with you and technically is not a relative but is actually a person you pay? What are the rules? How are you supposed to act? However, the film never really answers that question, rather it examines the experiences of Raquel, how she feels about her life and lets the audience draw its conclusions from there.
At the end of the day, “The Maid” stands as a beautifully shot, examination of family and a class system that is perhaps a bit out of date. In American terms, ask yourself this, was Alice really a member of the Brady’s? She lives in the house, cooks, cleans and takes care of the kids but is she really part of the family? That’s what this film asks, what makes a person a member of your family and if they are an extended member, how are they supposed to behave? Silva has made a film that will invite you in and take you on an emotional journey of the heart. All the actors in the film are well cast but it is Catalina Saavedra’s poignant and moving performance that makes “The Maid” a film worth not missing no matter what language you speak.