Directed by Sebastián Silva
Confounding in the most appropriate sense, Sebastián Silva's The Maid slowly develops into a surprisingly provocative portrait of Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), an uneasy individual in crisis after 20 years of live-in service to a wealthy Chilean family. The family is caring, showering her with chocolate cake and presents on her just-over-40th birthday. This outpouring of appreciation and gift-wrapped sweaters occurs, of course, as she inches away to finally enjoy her meal quietly in the kitchen after she finishes serving them dinner in the dining room. She's part of the family, but she's perpetually clad in a maid's uniform. Thus reflects the power structure and hierarchy that still pervades an ostensibly progressive society. The bourgeois mother, Pilar (Claudia Celedón), is talks openly about masturbation and its normalcy with her son, yet insists that her maids be dressed in frilly cloaks of captivity. None of these details are forced, but casually come and go-you observe as you please.
Silva's tapestry succeeds mostly due to his ability to give each prominent character—roughly six of them, including two teenagers and another maid—attention without constantly justifying their conduct. The focus is prominently placed on Raquel—and Saavedra's determined performance is particularly captivating—but the supporting characters never feel like ciphers, even when new maids are introduced and Raquel consistently humiliates them.
The Maid has a meandering tone, much in line with the droning, inconsistent moods of Raquel. It's not long before Raquel's exhaustion, paranoia and vitriol become unrelenting; there's obvious tension between her and every character, but there's no improbable display of malice that would be seen in a histrionic domestic thriller.
Silva openly admits the inspiration of his own live-in housekeeper: he dedicates the film to her, but this long-lost letter to his childhood maid is sealed with a question more than a kiss. Silva investigates, along with the screen family and the audience, the root of Raquel's destabilizing loneliness, yet uncovers only possibilities. Roughly halfway through the film, Raquel puts on a Halloween-style gorilla mask and looks in the mirror. The camera lingers, most likely pondering who created this monster: society? The family's wealth? Borderline personality disorder? Sheer loneliness? A traumatic backstory? It's all fascinating speculation.
Silva wisely lets the inherent themes of class and power quietly exist, focusing his attention more on the singularity of the bourgeois ensemble and their maid's bewildering behavior. The Maid can be a bit ponderous, but it's a nuanced, tragicomic character study of Nanny Dearest that closely observes the long-term destructiveness of a woman living an alienated double-life as worker and family member. Raquel's behavior is often bizarre, yet ultimately plausible. The film, as conceived, may dangerously veer towards unbelievable, but it always rings true.
Opens October 16