The Maid, a 2009 film from Chile, directed by Sebastian Silva, offers itself with a poster of a slightly maniacal woman, dressed in a white collared maid’s uniform, staring out at us.  That fairly represents the film itself.  Raquel barely cracks a smile for most of the movie.  Her eyes are in constant, suspicious motion, her mouth signalling some inner running commentary with its constant tics.   In her charge, in a well off Chilean household, are a teen age daughter, a 13 year old boy, part child, part sexual explorer, and two younger brothers — the boys always rowdy in totally brotherly ways.  She does the cooking, the cleaning, the clothes washing.  It’s a big load and it shows.  Pilar, the working mother knows it  and tries repeatedly to bring in someone to help her –which of course threatens Raquel’s security.  The first two efforts end in failure as Raquel drives them off with a combination of brow-beating, strange behavior and actual lock-outs.  Some fairly impressive scenes of black-humor, especially as the second maid, sent over by the Grandmother to get Raquel’s head set back on, scales walls to overcome the opposition.

This isn’t a movie of brutal exploitation of a poor maid.  It looks like a pretty good, and good humored household.  The kids, except for the oldest, the daughter, love her.  She says several times that she loves them and they her.  Yet she is morose and obviously at odds with the daughter.  What is the problem — unless it is simply the society that creates the possibility and need for house servants.  It doesn’t seem to be that kind of movie, though. Pilar refuses several times to fire Raquel, even as her own daughter and mother tell her Raquel is abusive to others and is losing it.  We’re never sure what exactly ails Raquel.  She pops pills regularly for severe headaches.  She suffers serious fainting spells and is taken to the hospital with no control over her legs.  Is this psychosomatic, or something organic?  We are never told — a major flaw in the film — but are led to think it is the former.

It is the hospital trip that finally brings in maid number 3, Lucy, who breaks through Raquel’s reserves.  We see her not only smiling, but genuinely cracking up, beginning when Raquel again tries to lock her supposed competitor out of the house.  Whereas the first two responded with panic and anger, Lucy disrobes and sunbathes in the nude near the family pool, to Raquel’s disbelief and suppressed, admiring laughter.  Through their growing friendship, a trip to Lucy’s family and (it seems) Raquel’s first sexual experience, we begin to see a different story — not of subjugation by others, but by self.  Perhaps the condition of being a maid was chosen by a particular personality, and also reinforces it. Perhaps as the oldest child becomes a vivacious young woman realization sets in for Raquel, of what she believes she is not.  Her friendship with Lucy seems to crack her shell, even as Lucy decides to leave the house to return to the family she misses.  The last scenes have the perpetually dour Raquel dressed in form revealing running clothes, ear buds in her hears, picking up the jogging habit of the departed Lucy.  She looks able now to run into a better future.

I can’t give The Maid a ‘Go See this Now!’ rating. It will be more interesting for Spanish speakers and learners, for South American fans.  The Chilean dialect spoken is much “thicker,”  more Argentine, than I had known it to be.  It’s interesting to watch the family behavior amongst each other and with the maid. It is fascinating to watch Catalina Saavedra as Raquel show off her acting chops. You are convinced she is either totally depressed or suffering from some neurological condition. So, not a super rating from me but, I’d watch it again, just to pick up more of the nuances of a culture I don’t know very well and because the list of movies looking at real work in the real world by those at the lower end of the ladder are few and far between.