Offbeat comedy on class clashes

Posted: November 13, 2009

Raquel has served the Valdes family, an upper-middle-class Chilean clan, for 23 years. From washing the laundry to preparing meals to dressing the kids and getting them out the door, Raquel is the oil that keeps this domestic engine running. Lately, that engine has been sputtering.

The Maid, Sebastián Silva's offbeat (and deadpan) comedy, looks and sounds like a movie shot on a nanny-cam. But its aim is not to document Raquel's incriminating behavior, although there is plenty of that.

Rather, this film, scenes from the class struggle in Santiago, is the work of a child of privilege (Silva, 30, shot the movie in the house where he grew up) trying to plumb the inner life of an inexpressive and indispensible figure. Raquel, subject to fainting spells and possibly depression (what are those pills she's popping?) struggles to define her ambiguous role: Is she a family member or a household fixture as inanimate as the kitchen sink?

As the movie opens, Raquel (Catalina Saavedra) resembles a limp rag doll with a face like flint. She wants no part of the Valdes celebration of her birthday. Believing Raquel overworked, Mrs. Valdes (Claudia Celedón) hires help for the help. Raquel reacts to the new maid, and then the new maid's replacement, like a dog defending her turf.

Silva expertly maintains the tension, asking the audience to interpret Raquel's bizarro behavior. His diagnosis is a pleasant surprise.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com.

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