Right on the DVD box for The Maid (La Nana), a winner at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, are the words “humorous” and “darkly comedic.”
This astonishing 2009 Chilean movie is many things: a pointed examination of domestic politics; a startling portrait of a life given over to others; a beautifully observed film about the smallest of everyday things. But “funny” it ain’t, though I suppose “darkly comedic” will sell more DVDs than “brutally sad.”
Because that’s what I see here: brutal sadness, in the tight boundaries and minor limits of the life of Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), live-in maid to a well-off Santiago family. And yet I urge you to see this movie, and see it now. Because it’s not just brutally sad; it’s also surprisingly hopeful, and wonderfully unpredictable, and simply lovely. Writer and director Sebastián Silva juggles his characters within the restricted confines of the Valdes home — almost the whole movie takes place there — and crafts such a richly emotional story in all the things that go unsaid between the Valdeses and Raquel. He skillfully maneuvers through ever-changing perspectives on Raquel and the lengths to which she will go to retain what little power she has in her life. She is the villain of the piece, and the heroine, and one of the most unforgettable characters I’ve ever seen on film.
Raquel is in charge of the household, but she appears to have no friends, no interests, nothing outside of the Valdes family. Her raging migraines are getting worse. The house and the kids are just too much work for her, but she’s also loathe to cede any of the power she has. So when the Valdeses bring in another, much younger maid to help Raquel ...
Well, I won’t tell you what happens. None of it is funny: just horrifying and heartbreaking. And absolutely haunting, in the very best way. This is the rare film that strives to introduce you to a character and succeeds in a way that you won’t see coming. (Not Rated)