10/15/2009 06:55 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Movie review: The Maid

The power struggle in Sebastian Silva's The Maid is less about class (though that's an element) than turf. What makes it fascinating is how easily the employer cedes her authority to the employee.

Her name is Raquel (Catalina Saavedra) and she's been with the Valdez family family for more than 20 years, since just after their college-age daughter was born. In the very first scene, you can feel the tension in the relationship -though her employers remain clueless, convinced they're treating Raquel as family by celebrating her birthday.

But it's obvious, even as she sits alone in the kitchen, eating her dinner and ignoring the Valdezes' entreaties to come out to the dining room and be surprised with presents and a birthday cake. Her face a joyless blank - it's her perpetual expression, taken to different degrees of hardness and opacity - she hunches over her food, shrugging off the well-meant (if patronizing) invitation until she is physically dragged to the celebration by her favorite of the Valdez children.

We shortly see the essence of her life with this family: a tiny room with a bed, a small TV, a couple of stuffed animals and an alarm clock. It's there she takes a call on her cell from her mother, wishing her a happy birthday.

The power struggle in the house isn't aggressive or overt. Rather, it's the little things: Raquel loudly vacuums outside the bedroom of the princessy oldest daughter, after being asked not to. Or she points out to her mistress, Pilar (Claudia Celedon), that she has to wash the oldest son's sheets every day because he masturbates messily every night. Or she walks in on the master of the house as he's exiting the shower. Talk about shrinkage.

As the saying goes, no man is a hero to his own valet. Raquel knows the family's foibles and uses them subtly to her own advantage.


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