In Chilean director Sebastian Silva’s award-winning film The Maid, a long-serving live-in housekeeper for an affluent suburban household finds her relationship with the family — and her hold on reality —slipping away in a haze of exhaustion and barely sublimated resentment.
What’s most impressive about The Maid is the way it takes a very serious — and, given Chile’s social and economic disparities, politically charged — scenario and mines it for both drama and comedy.
“I have heard it said that for every tear, you have to have a laugh,” says Silva. “The film is a tragedy about an isolated woman, but awkwardness can also be really funny. The film doesn’t have any jokes, but there is a lot of humour in discomfort.”
Silva’s mixed tones succeed largely because of the performance of star Catalina Saaverda, who inhabits the lead role with an intensity bordering on savagery (a quality literalized in a freaky scene involving a furry gorilla mask).
“She’s an exceptional actress, and I wanted to write something for her,” says Silva. “I wanted to make a film about a maid, based on the one I had grown up with in my adolescence, and I called her to tell her about it. She was mad about it because she had done a lot of other maid roles on TV and soap operas. I begged her to read the script and she liked it enough to do it.”
The ferocity of Saaverda’s performance is heightened by Silva’s cramped, restless visual style.
“I wanted to portray this situation as realistically as possible,” he explains.
“I’ve always been captivated by cinema verite and the work of Frederick Wiseman, and I wanted that kind of naturalistic feel. I’m not an academic person, so I explained to my cinematographer as wanting it to look like it was shot by a 14-year old who had just received a video camera for Christmas. We’re always following the action, and there are no fixed shots, waiting for characters to enter. I wanted it to feel spontaneous, and I think that’s what we got.”