Friday, February 26, 2010

Film Review – La Nana (The Maid)

Writer: Sebastián Silva, Pedro Peirano
Director: Sebastián Silva
Cast: Catalina Saavedra, Claudia Celedón, Alejandro Goic, Andrea García-Huidobro, Mariana Loyola
Indie drama, 94 Minutes
Spanish w/ English Subtitles

With his sophomore film La Nana (The Maid), director/co-writer Sebastián Silva paints a fascinating character study of Raquel, an old maid in both senses of the term.  Drawing on memories of his family’s own domestic help, his portrayal doesn’t sentimentalize or trivialize the workers but creates complex and multi-dimensional characters.

Raquel (Catalina Saavedra) is a frumpy, likeable and hardworking maid, but has a definite dark side.  She has helped the Valdez family in Chile for 23 years and is almost like family, yet still feels distant from them.  She has to be cajoled into joining them to celebrate her own birthday.  She is diligent, but overworked to the point of exhaustion and suffers headaches and dizzy spells.  When the mother Pilar (Claudia Celedón) suggests that the family hire a second maid, she does everything she can to sabotage her or anyone else who might come along. 

Saavedra does an excellent job of giving Raquel many layers.  She has a fierce loyalty and dedication to Pilar.  She also has a sibling rivalry-like tension with the daughter Camilia (Andrea García-Huidobro).  She often responds with childish passive aggression to people or situations which make her uncomfortable.  Raquel is actually quite devious and wicked, yet you end up liking her anyhow.  

Events unfold in a natural and leisurely pace.  But the story doesn’t goes where you expect it to.  Silva stays away from cliché and manages to infuse the narrative with an understated, goofy humour.  Using a handheld, documentary-style approach, he follows the protagonists closely like an invisible voyeur. He gives us a strong sense of the Raquel's life from her point of view.

La Nana won the 2009 Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Jury Prize Dramatic and the World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Acting went to Saavedra.  It’s taken a year for the film to reach theatres here but it’s been worth the wait.  This is a delicate and delightful charmer.

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