Sunday 17 December 2017

A drama maid for art-house cinema


Padraic McKiernan

The Maid

Cert 16

THE opening scenes of Chilean director Sebastian Silva's character study The Maid calls to mind Thoreau's famous quote about the "mass of men" and their lives of "quiet desperation". Winner of the 2008 World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, this movie focuses on the life of Santiago based domestic servant Raquel (Catalina Saavedra) whose life has become a monument to monotony.

It's easy to see why. For 23 years this acutely lonely 41-year-old has been catering to the domestic requirements of the same upper middle-class family, the Valdes, and while they've treated her well, the psychological fissures are beginning to show. A tetchy relationship with one of the children is compounded by fainting fits and migraines.

In response to her increasingly erratic behaviour, the mistress of the house Pilar (Claudia Celedon) employs another maid to lighten Raquel's load -- but this only succeeds in making a bad situation worse.

Increasingly territorial over her domain, Raquel's passive-aggressive tantrums scare off the timid new arrival, and a similar fate befalls her more bolshy replacement.

Against the odds, the chemistry seems more promising with Lucy, an endearing Mariana Loyola, the third and final attempt at an accommodation with Raquel's neuroses. Can the possibility of a friendship with the effervescent Lucy present Raquel with an antidote to her deepening alienation?

Embellished by fine performances and a hint of black comedy The Maid fulfils most of the criteria required of respectable art-house fare. Saavedra anchors proceedings splendidly in the central role and succeeds in the difficult task of sustaining our engagement levels with a character who spends a significant amount of screentime struggling to stay the right side of psychosis.

Equal parts touching and tragic, The Maid, however, never quite manages to hit the heights required to make it easy to recommend.

Showing in the IFI

Sunday Independent

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