The Maid (15)

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The Independent Culture

At first Sebastián Silva's drama seems to be a grimly funny but conventional exploration of class and manners. Catalina Saavedra plays Raquel, who's served the same upper-middle-class Chilean family as live-in maid for more than 20 years, and still they don't quite know how to treat one another.

This much is clear from the first scene where the family – academic mother (Claudia Celedon) and golf-nut father (Alejandro Goic), plus their four kids – celebrate Raquel's 41st birthday in an awkward little ceremony that suggests she is "part of the family", yet isolates her nonetheless. Plagued by severe headaches and fainting spells, Raquel lives in dread of her position being usurped, having come to regard the house virtually as her own fiefdom – she does all the work there, after all. By various mean tricks she sabotages the employment prospects of two maids, and even manages to disappear the pet feline that was getting so much attention. At this point the story looks to be leaning towards the psychotic, having established Raquel as the most unstable and possessive domestic since Mrs Danvers. What's the betting on that cat ending up in the pot roast? But Silva and his co-writer Pedro Peirano bend the narrative in an entirely unexpected direction on introducing a new maid, Lucy (Mariana Loyola), whose strong character and gregarious instincts prove to be a match for the sullen, suspicious Raquel. By degrees it becomes a subtler and more humane study in loneliness and the search for love, while never soft-pedalling the maid's hilarious passive-aggressive behaviour or the prickly subject of servitude. It's a superbly nuanced and thoughtful picture, with an outstanding performance by Saavedra at its heart.