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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Maid

One of 15 fine pictures in UWM's Latin American Film Series

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Raquel the servant eats alone in the kitchen as laughter from the family of her employers cuts loudly from the dining room. She is an unhappy-looking woman, even when the family cajoles her to join them. It's Raquel's 41st birthday and Pilar, the mother of the family, has organized a birthday cake and a few gifts. But Raquel, after 20 years in the house, remains awkward in their presence. The young boys treat her cavalierly, teenage daughter Camila glances at her with irritation and the husband is impatient to get on with it.

The Maid
(a Chilean-Mexican co-production) is a closely observed study of an upper-class household in Santiago, Chile—a family of professionals who apparently have been waited on for generations. The situational hierarchy and the fluctuating attitudes of other family members subtly undercut Pilar's kindness and consideration for her servant. "You're just the maid here!" Camila snaps, even though Raquel has been in the house longer than any of the children.

For her part, Raquel is a hard case, sullen and withdrawn, acting out in small passive-aggressive gestures, especially against Camila. The Maid shows the unarticulated resentments of a woman living in the proximity of privilege but with no prospects for her own future. Standing in the mirror of the master bedroom when the family is away, she tries on one of Pilar's tops and dreams.

Much of The Maid's scenario concerns Pilar's well-meaning efforts to ease Raquel's burdens by employing an assistant housekeeper. Raquel resists Pilar's gesture at every turn, revealing deep fissures of jealousy, envy and insecurity. Raquel has never enjoyed much of a life outside of the family she serves, and she feels threatened at every turn.

Directed by Chile's Sebastin Silva, The Maid doesn't develop along the simple lines of Hollywood melodrama. Instead, it confronts a wider range of possible outcomes with a sensibility closer to literature or the complexities of life itself. It screens 7 p.m. April 2 at the UW-Milwaukee Union Theatre as part of the 33rd annual Latin American Film Series. The festival runs April 1-8 and admission is free. For more information, check www4.uwm.edu/clacs/filmseries/index.cfm.