You just can’t get the help these days

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

THE DE­RANGED ser­vant is a much-ex­plored phe­nom­e­non in cin­ema. Con­sider Ju­dith An­der­son scowl­ing at Joan Fon­taine in Al­fred Hitch­cock’s Re­becca. Think of Dirk Bog­a­rde sneer­ing at James Fox in Joseph Losey’s The Ser­vant. Ma­tured in Marx­ist com­post, nour­ished by Freudian ir­ri­ga­tion, such re­la­tion­ships of­fer film-mak­ers any num­ber of sin­is­ter

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pos­si­bil­i­ties.

This low-bud­get Chilean fea­ture – bat­tered and washed-out in ap­pear­ance – man­ages to un­cover some fresh twists on the for­mula.

Se­bastián Silva’s film fo­cuses on an achingly bour­geois fam­ily liv­ing in the sub­urbs of San­ti­ago.

Mum spends her days pray­ing, su­per­vis­ing the help and en­ter­tain­ing her judg­men­tal mother. Dad plays golf and works on an or­nate model sail­ing ship (just as Chekov’s gun over the hearth must even­tu­ally be bran­dished, Silva’s del­i­cate ves­sel seems cer­tain to come to a sticky end). The teenage chil­dren do what teenage chil­dren will.

For the last two decades, Raquel, the fam­ily’s maid, has main­tained rea­son­ably har­mo­nious re­la­tions with the house­hold, but, just re­cently, she has started to be­have ab­nor­mally. She has faint­ing spells. Her tem­per is frayed.

When her em­ploy­ers, ini­tially un­der­stand­ing and tol­er­ant, hire some help – first a timid Peru­vian, later a wire-haired har­ri­dan – she spins even fur­ther out of con­trol.

She locks her col­leagues out of the house. When they take a shower, she scrubs the bath­room clean with dis­in­fec­tant. Such is the fur­rowed in­scrutabil­ity of Catalina Saave­dra’s splen­did per­for­mance that we are never cer­tain how far down the path to mad­ness Raquel has pro­gressed.

At times, we seem to be en­dur­ing a de­tailed por­trait of a ner­vous break­down (trig­gered, per­haps, by over-ex­po­sure to clean­ing prod­ucts). At oth­ers, the pic­ture ap­pears to be veer­ing into thriller ter­ri­tory.

Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, the film-mak­ers wrong-foot the viewer by turn­ing back from melo­drama and invit­ing the viewer to ac­cept Raquel as a fleshy, nu­anced hu­man be­ing.

Mildly satir­i­cal, oc­ca­sion­ally blackly hi­lar­i­ous, The Maid ends up op­er­at­ing within its own agree­ably pe­cu­liar genre.

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