Sunday, April 25, 2010

Film: The Maid - Three Perspectives

I recently saw the film The Maid (made in Chile, in Spanish with English sub-titles) at Film-O-Rama, sponsored by the New Orleans Film Society and the Prytania Theater. The Maid is excellently acted and well worth seeing. It also beautifully illustrates the principle that different people can enter the very same situation and experience it very differently.

The Maid takes place in the home of the Valdes family. They are six: mother, father, and four children - the eldest two being teenagers. The Valdes family has a live-in maid, Raquel, who has been with the family for twenty years and is now in her early forties. Raquel has a well-established position within the household, and the Valdes family is certainly well-intentioned toward her. Nonetheless, Raquel has become burnt-out, increasingly grumpy, and subject to headaches.

Senora Valdes, seeing this, decides to hire a secondary maid to help Raquel. Upon hearing that a secondary maid will be arriving, Raquel feels insulted. She determines to drive away any secondary maid by making that maid's life difficult.

A succession of three secondary maids come to work with Raquel. In each case, Raquel does her best to make the secondary maid feel unwelcome. When the secondary maid speaks to Raquel, Raquel remains silent or answers questions in monosyllables. When the secondary maid goes outdoors to tend to something in the yard, Raquel locks her out of the house. When the secondary maid uses the bathroom, Raquel immediately disinfects it. Each of the three secondary maids encounters this same behavior from Raquel.

  • MERCEDES. The first secondary maid, a young girl named Mercedes, responds in this way: RAQUEL IS MEAN AND POWERFUL. I WILL FEAR HER. Mercedes eventually quits.
  • SONIA. The second secondary maid, a middle-aged amazon of a woman named Sonia, responds in this way: RAQUEL IS MEAN AND THINKS SHE IS POWERFUL. I WILL FIGHT HER. Sonia, too, eventually leaves.
  • LUCY. The third secondary maid, Lucy, responds in this way: RAQUEL IS HURTING AND VULNERABLE. I WILL LOVE HER. Lucy's love, by the way, is playful and humorous. Lucy disarms Raquel with her quirky sense of humor.

Lucy's love transforms Raquel.

This is not the only message of the film. The Maid also explores the Latin American system of servitude in which a woman gives her whole life in service to a family. Despite a family's best intentions toward their maid, the maid will never enjoy the privilege of membership in the family or in the higher social class to which the family belongs. She will always be the servant, the maid.

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