Catalina Saavedra, in 'The Maid'

Dir. Sebastián Silva
(2009, Not Rated, 94 min)
★ ★ ½

Are we supposed to sympathize with Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), the title character of The Maid? Few characters make it harder to do so. She never smiles, not even on her birthday, which opens the film. That in itself doesn’t make her unlikable; some people aren’t demonstrative of their feelings, keep others at a distance, but are still capable of caring and being cared for. Not Raquel. She is bitter and mean, particularly to Camila (Andrea García-Huidobro), the teenage daughter of the family she serves, for no reason we can discern. She is downright abusive to other maids, whom the family hires to “help her.” Raquel thinks she’s being replaced, and so did I, but the new maids really are there just to help; the mother, Pilar (Claudia Celedón), is a pushover and can’t bring herself to fire her long-serving maid.

The first half of the film I spent in a state of puzzlement. Raquel is more than cranky. She is insufferable. How did she ever secure employment? How did she win Pilar’s seemingly inexhaustible patience and loyalty when she makes a point of being unkind? She greets her first assistant, Mercedes (Mercedes Villanueva), with instant hatred and makes derisive comments about her Peruvian heritage. What could justify or redeem such behavior?

Raquel softens upon the hiring of Lucy (Mariana Loyola) despite early attempts to drive her away, but why? Lucy is not like the others. She is less susceptible to Raquel’s abuse. Is that all Raquel is looking for? Someone who will stay no matter how hard she pushes? We might feel compassion for such a woman, but there’s nothing to suggest that Raquel is worth the trouble. Director and co-writer Sebastián Silva only shows us what she does, not who she is. A few hints creep through late in the film — a phone call from her mother, a flirtation with a man — but they’re just bits and pieces of a picture that never comes clearly into view.