Movies: The Maid * * * *
A dark, thoughtful and thoroughly absorbing drama from Chilean writer/director Sebastian Silva, The Maid stars Catalina Saavedra as the kind of home help you have nightmares about.
Raquel, who seems very mild-mannered to begin with, is a 40-something single woman who has allowed herself to be swallowed up by her job as a maid to a wealthy upper middle-class Santiago family.
She's been with them for more than 20 years, and considers herself part of the family. They buy her a cake for her birthday and make a minor fuss of her, but it's vaguely patronising and in reality Raquel is run ragged and taken for granted.
She resents the eldest daughter and has clearly developed a psychologically unhealthy relationship to the family. She snoops about and has what they like these days to call 'boundary issues'. But in a way Raquel is a victim of her uncertain circumstance as an underling in all but name, who has mistaken polite indifference for love and someone else's children for her own.
Of late, she has become increasingly unstable and things take a turn for the worse when her employers bring in a series of maids to help her.
The first, a sweet young girl from Peru, is no match for Raquel and leaves after a month of constant persecution.
The second is a tough old bird who tries to stand up to Raquel, but fares little better. But then, when she falls ill, a new replacement arrives who will really shake things up.
A thriller in a minor key, The Maid examines the ambivalent position of the modern day servant, in a time when the rich have learned to pay lip service to the idea that those who work for them are also human, but is also a study in frustrated feminity.
And Saavedra brings a terrific combination of vulnerability and suppressed menace to her portrayal of the unfortunate Raquel.