MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Maid’

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“The Maid” (“La nana”) is a character study, and though — like many in the genre — it moves deliberately and unhurriedly, it’s a gutsy one. That’s because the woman at the center of this Chilean film is a hard one to empathize with, let alone love.

Catalina Saavedra has the tough job of bringing this tough cookie to life. She plays Raquel, a 41-year-old woman who’s spent half her life tending to every need of the Valdes family in their large Santiago home. She does it without complaint — even on her birthday, she clears up the remains of her own celebratory cake. She betrays her resentment at serving the family but not being part of the family in sneakier ways — mostly by targeting the teenage daughter of the household, Camila (Andrea Garcia-Huidobro).

That simmering war — and the dizzy spells and headaches that are starting to make her work suffer — leads mother Pilar (Claudia Celedon) to hire a helper for Raquel. Big mistake — Raquel, worried about losing her place, however unsatisfying it is, lashes out. Her nasty tactics scare away first a young neophyte and then an old pro.

She looks to make it three times a charm when Lucy (Mariana Loyola) shows up, but this new maid tries a gambit neither of the previous ones did — she offers Raquel the real friendship her lonely life’s been lacking.

Miss Saavedra has been primarily a television actress, but this late-career role of a lifetime should change that. She’s not drop-dead gorgeous or playing a particularly sympathetic character — yet she’s enthralling all the same. She seems to be putting a lifetime of lost opportunities into her performance as the woman on whom everyone relies but whom no one really sees.

Some of the usual nanny cliches are here — Raquel tries on her mistress’s clothes and devotedly loves a child who’s not her own. “Why do you make such an effort for these ingrates? Just do your job, and you’ll be happier,” the older maid advises her.

Both the performance at the center of this film and the breath of fresh air provided by the lively Miss Loyola remind us that there are depths no one suspects at the center of that iconic figure in a black-and-white uniform.

★★★
TITLE: “The Maid” (“La nana”)
RATING: Not rated (brief nudity)
CREDITS: Directed by Sebastian Silva. Written by Mr. Silva and Pedro Peirano based on a story by Mr. Silva.
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
WEB SITE: themaidmovie.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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