Sunday, November 29, 2009

THE MAID (LA NANA) (2009)

Written & Directed by Sebastian Silva


Where & When: Fairfax Cinemas, Los Angeles, CA November 29, 2009, 2:30PM


"The Maid" is an fascinating character study of a woman who devotes so much of her life that she ignores her own needs and health in the process. There's not much of a plot in this documentary styled film but there is plenty to enjoy in this wonderful and smart dramedy.

We begin in Santiago, Chile where we meet the maid, Raquel (Catalina Saavedra) who is sitting down to eat after serving the Valdez family their dinner. Today is her 41st birthday and she has worked for this family for over twenty years. While Raquel is in the kitchen, Mundo (Alejandro Goic), his wife, Pilar (Claudia Celedon) and their two children, Lucas (Agustin Silva) and Claudia (Andrea Garcia-Huidobro) prepares to surprise her with a cake and gifts. She reluctantly comes out and they wish her a happy birthday.

Pilar is concerned about Raquel because she has been suffering from headaches, she looks fatigued and is always in a foul mood so she decides to hire a second housekeeper to help her out. Raquel is against the idea but Pilar insists. Claudia tells her mother that Raquel hates her and only likes Lucas. Pilar tells her she is imagining that but in the morning, Raquel deliberately vacuums by Claudia's room after she is told by Pilar to wait until later and let her sleep in. Raquel gives sweet treats to Lucas but hides them from Claudia.

The new maid, Mercedes (Mercedes Villanueva) starts with the family. She is young and pretty and the children warm to her immediately. This sets Raquel off and she begins to torture Mercedes by berating her and locking her out of the house hoping this will drive her away. Eventually it works and Raquel drives Mercedes out of the house.

Pilar's mother offers to lend her long time maid, Sonia to help out around her daughter's house. Raquel tries her previous little tricks on Sonia but she is not one to mess with. After being locked out, Sonia manages to get back into the house and starts to beat up Raquel and in the process, breaks Mundo's prize model ship he had been working on for years. Luckily for Raquel, Pilar only dismisses Sonia.

One morning, Raquel is serving the parents breakfast in bed when she collapses and is rushed to the hospital. After she is released, she is ordered to bed rest so that means that the family has to hire a new maid to help out. They bring in Lucy, (Mariana Loyola) a good natured but eccentric woman who fits in quite nicely in the house.

When Raquel's health improves and she is able to work again, she begins her attempts to drive Lucy out of the house. Lucy is unfazed by Raquel's bad behavior and she tries even harder to befriend her. Soon, Raquel learns to trust Lucy and a true friendship develops between the two women. They become so close that Lucy invites Raquel to come to her family's farm for Christmas. It is here where Raquel finally discovers what it is like to truly feel to be a part of a family and she discovers her femininity when she has an intimate encounter with Lucy's cousin.

Raquel returns to the Valdez household a much happier woman. She arranges a surprise birthday party for Lucy. At the party, Lucy informs the family that she is going to return to her family on the farm because she realized how much she missed them during the holidays. Raquel is devastated by the news. She is losing her only friend. How will Raquel cope with this?

"The Maid" is really held together by the brilliant performance of Ms Saavedra. She is able to communicate all of Raquel's moodiness and rage with just her expressive face and her internal turmoil through her sad eyes. Her performance should certainly be remembered during the award season.

This film by Mr. Silva is loosely based on his childhood experiences. He has only made a couple of other films which I don't think where widely distributed here, if at all and this is an impressive work. If you enjoy foreign language films, then I highly recommend checking out "The Maid".