Smells like bleach and honey – The Maid

Set in an upper class neighbourhood in Chile The Maid is a delight. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Golden Globes and winner of the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance and it is easy to see why. It is brilliantly written and directed by Sebastian Silva. At turns funny and shocking and tragic this film is a fascinating insight into a world far away in miles and also time.

After 23 years of faithful service to the Valdes family Raquel (Catalina Saavedra ) thinks she is part of the family, but her barely concealed hatred toward their eldest daughter and her constant headaches make them feel she needs a bit of help around the house. However, Raquel doesn’t take very kindly to the idea and feeling that her place is being usurped starts to sabotage all efforts of the new maids to settle in.

The film begins with Raquel’s birthday, a joyless occasion where we are introduced to a pouty misery of a woman whose employers don’t know how to handle. We only see very brief glimpses of a smile when the boys in the family tease her and she blatantly adores them; hiding snacks in her bedroom to add to the boys’ lunch boxes but refusing to let the Valdes’ eldest child Camila (Andrea Garcia-Huidobro) have any.  She is a classic passive aggressive character punishing Lucas (Agustin Silva) for being friendly to a new maid by telling his mother about his nightly “emissions”.

She looks out of place when she is not in her maids uniform with no idea how to act or what to do. On her day off she leaves the house only to wander about designer shops in an upmarket district buying a sweater the same as one her boss Pilar (Claudia Celedon) already owns, seemingly unable to think for herself at all. She gets “home” as soon as she can to carry on working as she simply cannot turn off from being their maid. The family install a new young maid, Mercedes (Mercedes Villanueva) from Peru, to help out with the chores but Raquel drives her out with a series of bizarre and childish tricks. She does truly appear at first to be a bit of a nutjob and indeed Pilar finds family photographs in Raquel’s room with the face of Camila scrubbed out.

This is perfect casting; Saavedra in this role has a face made for radio, sullen doesn’t even come close, she lumbers about like Boris Karloff in Frankenstein. Creepy and sad she declares to another maid “I love them and they love me, I’m part of the family” which smacks of The Hand That Rocks The Cradle psycho-in-your-house-type-scenario. Catalina Saavedra is mesmerising whether she is eating her dinner or obsessively bleaching the bath she has a presence on screen which is unmatched here. She won a spate of award last year for this role and they were well deserved; she delivers a subtle and moving performance.

In the UK we only have maids for the uber rich or upper classes and this film shows us the remnants of an outdated aristocracy and its servants. It’s a satire about the role of the servant in today’s world and how Raquel is conditioned like a long-term inmate, keeping herself prisoner with her servile attitude, immersing herself in someone else’s world.  The arrival of a new maid Lucy (Mariana Loyola) turns Raquel’s world on it’s head and this film leaves you with a rather nice feeling inside and a big grin on your face.

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