Friday, January 29, 2010

The Maid (La Nana) - Alyson Hill

What a bizarre idea it is to pay someone to live with you, get up before you, cook all your meals, clean every nook and cranny of your house, take care of your children and to essentially inhabit your life in lieu of their own. This is one of many observations one is led to make while watching Sebasti├ín Silva’s “The Maid,” a darkly humorous character study opening today at The Loft. The film centers upon Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), who has worked as a maid for the Valdez family for the entirety of her adult life. Raquel is humble and dedicated, so much so that she regularly powers through migraine headaches in order to bring everyone else breakfast in bed and vacuum underneath armchair cushions. Seemingly without reason, she adores Lucas, the older Valdez boy, and hates Camila, the daughter, both of whom she has known since their birth.

At the film’s opening, we see that Raquel has worked herself into a state of extreme stress and fatigue. Though the Valdez family loves her and treats her as one of their own, Raquel seems to be perpetually striving to meet impossibly high standards to which nobody holds her. When Raquel’s behavior starts to become somewhat unhinged, Mrs. Valdez doesn’t dream of firing her — she could no more fire Raquel than she could “fire” her mother — but instead hires another maid, a young woman from Peru named Mercedes, to help out. Raquel is horrified and schemes to sabotage the whole arrangement. At first, her behavior is inexplicable and perversely funny, but watching her interact with one maid, then another and another, one gradually begins to understand: Raquel isn’t dedicated — she’s obsessive. She isn’t mean — she’s painfully awkward. And really, if you had lived a life of drudgery and isolation like she has, wouldn’t you be too? Raquel is like a real-life Cinderella, emotionally stunted and fiercely protective of her work, as it’s the only thing that makes her feel like she belongs.

“The Maid” has been winning awards left and right, it seems, and understandably so. But, to be frank, this stark, digitally shot film doesn’t really do much to entice viewers. Like much other bare-bones indie fare, it is almost entirely devoid of music, with the exception of the original song “AyAyAyAy” by Pedro Piedra, which is currently (and rightfully) in the running for an Oscar nomination. Visually, its drabness underscores what life must feel like for someone in Raquel’s career field, and the many slightly-too-close-for-comfort shots effectively illustrate the claustrophobic state of mind such a life would put one in — but unfortunately, the very characteristics that make this film effective also limit its rewatchability. “The Maid” is certainly a good, thought-provoking, and well executed film with a very original story, but its hyper-realism, while appropriate, prevents it from being one that you’d necessarily want to watch time and again. If you’re hungry for some food for thought, you can catch it all week at The Loft.

Alyson Hill is a staff member and aspiring projectionist at The Loft Cinema. She has a B.A. in History, German Studies and Classics, which is all well and good, but she likes this movie stuff better and hopes her life continues to revolve indefinitely around funny, creative people and the bizarre and beautiful things they create. An incorrigible Anglophile, her favorite things include The Kinks, Tony Richardson and brown ales.

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