31 July 2010

Review: "The Maid" (La Nana)

The Maid is one of the best films that I have seen in quite some time. Recently I complained about the lack of quality 2010 films and it is a shame that Sebastián Silva's Chilean film was released in 2009. The film introduces international audiences to Catalina Saavedra, a talented actress who sets fire to the screen with the simplest action and brings her character to life. The film premiered at many film festivals across the world (in Asia, Europe, North and South America) and both Silva and Saavedra received multiple honours. The Maid is a straightforward story about a wealthy family and their maid that they have welcomed into their home. It often blurs the line between drama and comedy but the result is a very touching film. Silva's direction and screenplay (with Pedro Peirano) is strong and honest and Saavedra's performance is downright brilliant. I have not seen a Chilean film before and the only South American film I have seen is City of God (Brazil), but The Maid exists beyond cultural restraints because the honesty of its story will resonate anywhere in the world.

Racquel (Saavedra) has been the maid for the Valdes family for over twenty years. The Maid begins on Racquel's birthday and while the family is surreptitiously arranging the presents in the dining room Racquel is eating her dinner alone. Pilar (Claudia Celedón) and Mundo (Alejandro Goic) try to treat Racquel as part of the family and she has helped raise their four children. Camila (Andrea Garcia-Huidobro) is in her twenties and has a tense relationship with Racquel, Lucas (Agustin Silva) is a teenager and is Racquel's favourite, and the youngest Tomás (Darok Orellana) and Gabriel (Sebasti
án La Rivera) still rely heavily on Racquel. From the beginning we know that Racquel is in poor health and she repeatedly rebuffs Pilar's offers to hire more help. Pilar, knowing the house is too big for just Racquel, hires the young Mercedes (Mercedes Villanueva). Racquel is not welcoming whatsoever and eventually her behaviour forces Mercedes to quit. After Racquel has an accident at home the family hires Lucy (Mariana Loyola) and although Racquel is at first very stubborn she and Lucy develop a very close bond that changes the environment at home.

The Maid does something that I enjoy when I watch a film: it does not control the film with dialogue and allows the action on screen to exist in silence. Catalina Saavedra's face is so beautifully expressive that the audience is able to understand her thoughts and emotions without dialogue. Credit must be given to Sebasti
án Silva for giving his actress to much room to grow and to Saavedra for making Racquel such a finely-tuned character. It is only Silva's second directorial effort (after 2007's La vida me mata (Life Kills Me)). The Maid won the Grand Jury Prize: World Cinema - Dramatic at Sundance and considering how much buzz films often get from Sundance it is a shame that the film and Catalina Saavedra did not receive more attention in North America. The Maid is fresh, funny, touching and superbly crafted and one of the best foreign films that I have seen recently.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

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