A personal transformation takes place in The Maid, too, but it’s far less pleasant. The main problem of Chilean writer-director Sebastián Silva’s story about a long-time, live-in housekeeper, however, is a double-edged: The film’s star, Catalina Saavedra, is excellent as the embittered title character. As a result, you spend much of the film wanting to punch her in the face.
Raquel (Saavedra) is celebrating her 41st birthday in the opening scene, dragged from her solitary meal in a kitchen to have cake with the family who’s employed her for over two decades. The only other person who acknowledges the occasion is her mother; the round-the-clock service that Raquel provides for Pilar (Claudia Celedón), Mundo (Alejandro Goic), and their children hasn’t allowed her to establish much of a life of her own. Raquel is fond of most of the family but engages in passive-aggressive battles with the teenage Camila (Andrea Garcia-Huidobro), even scratching out the girl’s face in photographs.
Raquel’s beef with Camila is never explained, but when Pilar starts hiring assistant maids to help her manage the big house (Raquel suffers from headaches and vertigo), the housekeeper becomes fiercely territorial. Each new maid, no matter how polite, gets locked out of the house and sabotaged; and Raquel disinfects the bathroom after a shower as if each maid had swine flu. Raquel seems to think no action too wicked if it means she’ll be the sole servant again—even the kitten is a tool for revenge.
This cycling of new help and the family’s increasing awareness of Raquel’s craziness is accompanied by Saavedra’s invariably pissy expression, which, along with Raquel’s childish behavior, gets old fast. The few scenes that show Raquel laughing (she’s partial to one of the sons) start to seem incongruent, and when an assistant finally tussles with her, well, you don’t root for the protagonist. Turns out the line between “depressed woman” and “fucking psycho” is a fine one.
As infuriating as the film gets, though, it’s always engaging, even if you just want to find out exactly what Raquel’s problem is. The family finally gets lucky after hiring Lucy (Mariana Loyola), a cheerful sort who pushes through Raquel’s armor to show her there’s life outside of work. The Maid’s story is arguably too facile to warrant big-screen treatment, but there is some thoughtfulness to take away from this slice-of-life, however slight.