Sebastián Silva

Elephant Eye Films

Catalina Saavedra, Claudia Celedón, Alejandro Goic, Andrea García-Huidobro, Mariana Loyola, Agustín Silva

LA NANA (THE MAID): Chile 2009, 35mm, color, Spanish, NR, 95 min



PART OF DIAS DE CINE Latin American Film Festival with Introduction and Discussion with ELENA ADELL on Saturday 10/23 @ 9:30p

WINNER: 2009 Sundance Film Festival: Special Jury Prize World Cinema
WINNER: 2009 Havana Film Festival: Best Actress
WINNER: 2009 Gotham Awards: Breakthrough Award
NOMINATION: 2010 Golden Globes USA: Best Foreign Language Film

With a few brushstrokes, Sebastian Silva communicates the complicated social and moral dynamic involved in having a live-in maid. His talent for incisive detail is apparent from the opening minutes of his new film, in which we see an upper-middle-class Chilean family celebrating the birthday of Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), who has lived with them for 21 years.

In THE MAID, Raquel is family, but she's not family. The family appreciates her, but they feel sorry for her. They want to be nice to her, but her conversation is limited, and she's definitely the least intelligent person in the house. Everyone else has a life, an identity and a future that goes way beyond those rooms, but Raquel's work life, her quasi-family life and her future are confined and defined by that house. Everyone knows this, and it infects the celebration. The kids can barely sit still, and the father excuses himself within minutes.

The details are fascinating, surprisingly so. The maid gets up before anyone else, gets ready and makes her own bed, arranging her stuffed animals. Then she wakes the kids, makes breakfast and wakes the lady of the house. On the surface, all is as normal. But Raquel is having severe headaches, and she's beginning to have fainting spells. Something is going wrong.

To play Raquel, Saavedra hides her own intelligence to play a simple woman, one who is not introspective and yet has a tendency toward emotional self-delusion and barely recognized rage. In a sense, we know more about Raquel than Raquel knows about herself. Saavedra doesn't let us know that she knows it, too. She suppresses that actor's vanity - the temptation to reveal her own intelligence - and delivers one of the year's most notable performances. Also not to be discounted is the performance of Mariana Loyola, who plays Lucy, a maid with a different kind of personal life and a much different spirit.

THE MAID would have been worthwhile just as a showcase both for good acting and for the director's virtuosity. But the movie's ultimate virtue is its humanity. Having set down a complicated dynamic, Silva doesn't take any of the usual shortcuts. He doesn't, for example, turn THE MAID into a crazy genre film. He finds human answers to human situations. san francisco chronicle