11 September 2010
Warning: this is a black comedy. Its blackness is subtle, its humour is as dry as the Atacama Desert. Its intentions are unclear. Its mood swings are menopausal. Its cringeworthiness coefficient is off the charts. It boasts an amazing performance by an actress you or I have never heard of. It has the best cinematography by a DV camera I have yet seen. It is without a single shred of doubt the best adaptation of A Christmas Carol. It is pretty good.
Raquel is exhausted, both physically and mentally. She has been loyally serving the wealthy Pilar family for 21 years. She has seen the births of three of the four children and she has the undying support of the matriarch and the teenage son. She is more part of the family than any of the other biological members of this family. They are not dysfunctional, but morbidly normal.
They live in a large house near what I assume to be Santiago. They have a pool. The father - ludicrously named Mundo (“World”) - plays golf and builds model ships. The mother teaches at the university. Kids go to school. And Raquel does her chores. Religiously, without fail, following a certain pattern for over 21 years. She has wasted her youth, her chance to start her own family, sacrificing her real family along the way. Pilar family see this and decide to give her a break by hiring a younger maid to help her out.
Raquel sees this as an invasion of her territory and shows that in no uncertain terms when she locks out the Maids of Life Present, Past and Future out of the house, while faking to vacuum the floors for the umpteenth time. The family refuse to fire her, except for the eldest daughter, Camila, who seems to be the only one that sees something wrong with Raquel.
In fact, it is not clear whether Raquel plays all these little tricks because something sinister is brewing inside her (she has chronic headaches and passes out more than once), or is it just a territorial spat? This ambiguity plays very well throughout the film, until the Maid of Life Future finds a way in and shows us all what the real problem is. It’s not a twist, but it plays out beautifully on the screen, so I wouldn’t want to ruin that for anyone.
More than once I had the urge to look away from what Raquel was about to do. It is very disturbing, yet somewhat quite touching - and funny. Raquel’s suffering and pain are very, very real. Her tricks aren’t gimmicky, movie tricks on the Maids, but real pranks (perhaps it’s quite a stretch to call them pranks) that real people would resort to if they were facing what Raquel is facing: in an endless loop of banality, where time loses its meaning in the moment, Raquel knows she has wasted her life by enabling her “title” taking over her personality.
Looking for a cheesy ending where the cheese is of adequate amount? This is great example of downplaying the pathos. It is a perfect ending to a near-perfect film. Yes, there are some plot holes along the way (the father disappears halfway through the film, Raquel and Camila’s enmity is somewhat brushed aside), but it is good enough to let those little things go by.