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The Maid (La Nana)

She's more or less family.

Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but for the title character of the pitch-black Chilean comedy The Maid, it’s closer to infernal torment. For more than 20 years, Raquel (Catalina Saavedra) has worked as the hired help for an upper-class Santiago family, the Valdezes, whom she has served with the dedication of a novitiate – swaddling the children when they were young, changing their stained bedsheets, and suffering their moody rebukes as they reached adolescence. But as Raquel celebrates her 41st birthday, her labours have taken their Sisyphean toll. Her unkempt curls droop down around a face wrought into a permanent scowl, and she suffers from painful migraines and sudden fainting spells. Because of her problems, the Valdezes propose hiring a second maid to relieve Raquel of some of her responsibilities; she, unfortunately, misinteprets this as a declaration of war. One by one the candidates arrive, only to meet the full force of Raquel’s passive aggression. When comely au pair Mercedes (Mercedes Villanueva) shows up on the scene, Raquel takes to locking her out of the house and violently scouring the bathroom after she showers, until the young Peruvian girl runs away in tears. Her replacement, a grizzled lifer who refers to employers as ‘ingrates’, puts up more of a fight – literally, in one scene, where she and Raquel come to blows – only to eventually head for the hills. But the third time proves something like a charm in the form of Lucy (Mariana Loyola), a fount of perky energy – she goes for early-morning jogs before starting her daily chores – who is either immune to Raquel’s offensives or, perhaps, a little bit crazy herself. The Remains Of The Day as reimagined by a budding Luis Buñuel, The Maid was co-written and directed by 30-year-old Sebastián Silva, who shot the film in the house where he grew up and based it, in part, on events from his childhood. Neither a crude lampoon of domestic servitude nor a knee-jerk skewering of the bourgeoisie, the movie deftly shifts its point of view from downstairs to upstairs and back again, always keeping us off-balance as to where – if anywhere – its sympathies lie. In a remarkable performance that won her a special award from the world cinema jury at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival (which also gave Silva’s film its Grand Jury Prize), Chilean television vet Saavedra goes through one of the most uncanny psychophysical transformations I’ve ever seen in a movie without the benefit of obvious makeup or other prosthetics. For most of The Maid’s running time, she exudes a troll-like presence, hunched over and turned in on herself, scurrying about the house as if trying not to be seen. Then, as Lucy comes into her life, she straightens and brightens and looks at least a decade younger. The two women share a wonderful chemistry, capped by a lovely scene in which Lucy invites Raquel to spend Christmas with her family in the countryside. – Scott Foundas, The Village Voice Official Trailer
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Directed by: 
Sebastián Silva
Running Time: 
95
Country(ies): 
Chile
Language: 
Spanish with English Subtitles
Starring: 
Catalina Saavedra, Mercedes Villanueva, Claudia Celedón, Mariana Loyola, Agustín Silva
Screenplay by: 
Pedro Peirano, Sebastián Silva

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