Introducing our new original column -Film Diaries: A Film A Day – Part 1 The Maid (La Nana) 2009
Directed by Sebastian Silva
Starring Catalina Saavedra, Mariana Loyola
Numerous festival wins including Sundance’s 2009 World Cinema Jury Prize Cinematic,
and World Cinema Jury Prize for Acting for Catalina Saavedra
The Maid explores themes of class, money, and isolation with a look inside a short period of time in the life of the family maid. Raquel has been with a boisterous wealthy family of 6 (four kids from around 5 to 20) for 21 years. As we meet Raquel, she is hard to figure out, even as we see the story from her point of view. She’s angry, passive-aggressive, and seems emotionally shut down. There are brief, desperate, sad smiles for her favourite of the children, a teenage boy who’s quickly outgrowing his need for her, and a general discomfort among the family she’s lived with and raised, but has little authority, autonomy or power in.
Eating her supper in the kitchen, she’s summoned into the family dining room for a presentation of her birthday cake and presents that she prefers to take to her little room to open in private. Another gift is her employer and the children doing that night’s dishes.Here, in the first sequence, the film and its star, with her closed and angry face, her anxiety and frequent headaches, her obvious loneliness, is immediately riveting and original as it takes us into the daily life of one fairly ordinary family (with all of any “normal” family’s deep dysfunctions).
There is a blurred and confusing dynamic at play in this world- one of formal structures and class boundaries- Raquel is an actual servant, as she brings breakfast in bed to the couple of the house every morning, and alone, sees the younger kids are awakened, dressed, fed and sent to school. Then there’s the tension as she negotiates her fraught relationships with the older, spoiled children who challenge her even as they love her as a sort of mother figure who’s raised them since birth. She seems to have been the disciplinarian, while mom (who is rather passive, but also passive-aggressive) gets to cherry pick the aspects of motherhood she wants to do. Her role is somewhere between pet, maid, co-mother and enforcer, and it’s a very draining one indeed.
The boundaries, after two decades, are hopelessly blurred.
The action turns on the Matriarch’s decision to bring in an extra maid to help Raquel, who is always vocally and visibly tired and overworked in this large house and family (serving as full time, live in housekeeper/cook, nanny, and house manager). Raquel is threatened by this change, having operated by a slim thread of control and enjoying her limited power and privacy. She’s also struggling with her health and fears being replaced.
A darkly comical and startling few chapters of the story turn on Raquel’s dealing with various maids brought in to help, and how she resists the intrusion, unable to accept help or to share, isolated for so long, depressed and anxious. Her response to this untenable situation is one of exhaustion and desperation: she simply locks them out of the house at every opportunity. Finally, a very different type of person comes into the role and Raquel finds a friend, which is one of the things she’s desperately been missing all these years.
Raquel’s own family and own life is an urgent question mark for much of the film, even as the answer is writ large on the screen. And in the twenty years Raquel has spent consumed by or married to her job, she’s not so different from other types of careerist (or survivalist) women who find themselves in their Forties facing similar hard questions, decisions made out of circumstances, out of lack, rather than active ones; and awakening to truths about now closed off roads.
The fact that Raquel is made to wear a traditional maid’s uniform – seemingly itchy, polyester, and a dress (while perhaps normal in this particular cultural milieu) strikes the Western viewer of humble origins as a retro affront that symbolizes the larger issues of objectification and labeling, one that the lack of uniform or adult choice of daily clothing would ease significantly.
There are clear interrogations of class and the actual treatment of maids and there are also deeply resonant ideas shared about the sorts of factors that can make lonely and frustrated people sick and stall their lives. The self-replicating pain of this type of situation, of any type of deeply depressive rut, is an affecting image that both honours and transcend the specific situations in the film.
The Maid is available (via monthly subscription) to stream on Sundance Now Doc Club