Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sebastian Silva's THE MAID opens; interview with the filmmaker

THE MAID, a new film by Chilean co-writer (with Pedro Periano) and director Sebastián Silva, surprised me. It’s been awhile since I found a leading character -- the maid of the title -- so hate-
ful and annoying that when she finally gets pummeled by another maid, I felt a surge of happiness. Thankfully, Silva (shown below) manages to place us viewers as much in the shoes of the other

characters as in those of his main character, so that we really feel and understand the annoyance they experience with this bizarre maid. But then we begin to learn things. By the end we're not only rooting for her, we're completely in her corner.

Silva doesn’t over-explain it all, either, which is nice. How and why things happen become as much a part of the mystery of the human character as about plot or circumstance. In any case, just as the maid is changed, so are we. Señor Silva does give us enough hints along the way so that nothing seems out of left field, and he doesn’t make anyone out to be a villain (except maybe Raquel, initially --- which becomes part of the movie’s fun). Technically, the film is quite accomplished: acting, writing, camerawork – and all on a very low budget. Silva knows film-making, but he also knows people -- which makes his movie a treat to watch and something very humane to contemplate, post-viewing.

The writer/director seems to have a natural instinct for film and its most important elements: storytelling, visuals, and performance. In the title role, his lead actress, Catalina Saavedra (above, left, and top), gives an unforgettable performance. This is award material (Saavedra has already won Best Actress at the Cartagena Film Fest and a Special Jury Prize at Sundance). The remainder of the cast is all fine, as well, with Mariana Loyola (above, right), who plays the other important maid Lucy, a standout. The most important thing TrustMovies learned from the film is how tricky it can be to employ someone like this, full-time and live-in, so that she becomes a kind of appendage to the family without being able to have a life of her own. I expect, as Silva says in a long interview in the film's press kit, this 24/7 routine is something that happens more in Chile than here in the USA. In any case, his film is eye-opening and moving in equal measure.

The Maid opens in New York City at the Angelika Film Center this Friday, October 16. Click here , then click on THEATRES/SHOWTIMES, for further playdates and theaters.

We had the opportunity to speak at length with Silva during his recent stay in NYC at one of our newer and more unusual visitors venues, The Ace Hotel.

TrustMovies: We’re talking to Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Silva. Is Silva Spanish? Portuguese?

Sebastian Silva: That’s a good question. I think Silva is actually Portuguese but they claim that it is Spanish. But I don’t know from where in Spain, so yeah, I think it is Portuguese. We were just talking that it might even be Jewish. Who knows? I have heard that in some Jewish communities in Portugal, that they changed their names to names like Silva. I am not saying that I am Jewish because I don’t even know.

OK: We’ll fudge that one, Sebastián. You know, I really loved your movie in a special kind of way because it deals with live-in maids who are important care givers. We don’t see that much about this subject in our country, and when we do it is usually something like Genet’s The Maids or Bette Davis in The Nanny.

There is something cartoon-ish about those.

Exactly. But your movie is so humane. I read the entire interview in the press kit for this film, which is maybe the best I have ever read: so thorough and interesting (Readers: see end of this post to learn how you can access this long and fascinating six-page interview.) So I really don’t have a whole lot more to ask you. Except maybe we could talk a little about what “almost family” -- that phrase the other characters use to describe your main character Raquel -- actually means. My companion and I live with his 95-year-old mother, whose care-giver has been with us for… I don’t know, maybe five or seven years now. And she is… well, we love her so much and we think of her – we refer to her -- as family. But she’s not really family. So there is a constant tension as to…

Where the border goes.

Yes! You grew up with the “maid,” right?

I grew up with several. There was one that was all the way through which is kind of Raquel – what the character of Raquel is based on. And she was there since I was three years old until I was 18. So it was, like, during all my childhood and adolescence, I had to share space and time with a maid who worked and lived at my house. My first reaction to this that I have a memory of – I don’t remember when I was really young, but then I probably got along with her really well -- but later I do remember feeling very rebellious about this third authority figure. You already have a mother and father and then this strange woman comes in and she is bossing you around because she must feed you and take care of you.

Were you always a rebel? Even when you were very young?

That’s what I don’t remember. I guess not.

I would think you would might have loved her in some way.

Exactly. That makes total sense, but what I first remember is rebel-
ling and not getting along with her, even though I have seen pic-
tures where I am happy and holding hands with her. But then later I was always fighting and rebelling against this authority figure who has less authority than your parents and yet who spends much more time with you than anyone else. She is always there.

This was in Chile, right, where -- as you point out in the press kit – maids tend to live with the family 24/7. It becomes their whole life, and this is really bizarre.

Yes, and it becomes some kind of heritage of like…


Slavery and colonialism. I think that slavery is really something else. It’s when you don’t have a choice. But they do have a choice, so this is not slavery..

What country did she come from?

No -- she is from Chile, but from the north.

So from a poorer area, maybe?

Yes, poor, humble, illiterate. That sort of thing. Now, we have a lot of Peruvian women coming to Chile and working in this way. But they get paid even less because they are immigrants.

Chile borders on Peru up at the top?

Yes. And this whole maid phenomenon is really popular throughout all of South America, not just Chile. In Santiago, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, San Paolo and Mexico City. Those are the places where there are the largest amount of maids. In Chile, for instance, there are now more than 250,000 maids, just in Santiago alone. That is a huge amount of maids which represents a really important link in Chilean society. Even the middle class has maids.

For me it was also interesting to finally see a Chilean movie that had nothing whatsoever to do with Allende or Pinochet.

(He laughs.) I know. Lucky -- lucky! Right?

Well, I realize that if I were more alert or Chilean, maybe I would have picked up on some small or subtle things in the movie.

No. Come on, come on – there are none! I have to say I grew up a little oblivious to political matters.

How old are you?

I am 30.

So that’s a little young for the whole Allende/Pinochet thing.

That makes sense, but there are still people my age who are making art pieces that deal with those political events. And I do think that it is really important, too. But I don’t think, like, film-making or films in general always must deal with that political issue. There are so many other things to talk about: so many emotions or dreams to do.

Like what you talk about in this film. I don’t think anyone else has quite covered the subject the way you do.

No, I don’t think so.

The other thing I don’t want to forget to ask you. I think – and if I am treading on bad ground, let me know – but in that long interview in the press kit, it comes out that you are gay, right?

(He waves it off.) Yeah, yeah, yeah.

And that was interesting to me because I am gay. And so I thought, gee, if I know this fact about you, I can then make certain associations about your movie – unfairly or not, I admit -- that maybe because you are a gay filmmaker, your movie is more humane or that perhaps you have more of an real interest in the totality of this woman that we might not see from a straight male filmmaker. But on the other hand, it was so interesting to see a film from an “out” gay filmmaker that has nothing to do with politics or nothing to do….

With gayness!

Yes! Except with the generic, just who you are.

I mean, like, there is definitely a sensibility. You can call it Sebastian’s sensibility, or a gay sensibility. It’s up to you.

But a generic “gay” sensibility is not necessarily the same thing as Sebastian’s sensibility.

Exactly. That is what I am saying. And it’s true: I realized that there was some kind of homosexual aspects of Raquel’s feeling toward Lucy. Not exactly sexual, though. More like admiration. She is, like, worshiping Lucy. She doesn’t want to sleep with the guy. She tries to, but it is maybe too late for this.

Did something like that happen. Between the two maids?

Not really.

You invented all that? It’s fine: It works.

Well, some. The relationship between to the two maids actually took place. At the end of the credits you can see that the film is dedicated to these two women. There was this one maid who went to my family’s house and took Raquel out of her misery by being really compassionate. Not being submissive or confrontational, as were the other maids.

That relationship is what takes the movie to another level. I can’t remember a character that I disliked as much as I did Raquel at the beginning of the film and well into it. It’s humorous, too, of course. But then it all changes -- and without anything fake happening.

Because her process really is organic.

This makes the viewer identify with her: What would this have been like to come here as a young and untutored girl who then gives up her life to serve this family? And to have no sexuality…

And no social life, not even any friends.

It’s amazing that she can even get better – as better as she does.

Yes, it is not a full redemption, but it is something.

But it’s a major something!

Every time I see the film, I see something new. I see the ending again and I am, like, is this really a happy ending? Raquel is left there by herself, and so she is starting to jog and she is even imitating Lucy a little bit: the habit of jogging, telling the same joke that Lucy has told. Is this maybe some kind of psychotic behavior? I don’t know…. Some critics, especially in Chile, have said that the movie does have a political point of view, especially at the end by redeeming Raquel.

No, your ending is happier, but not necessarily happy.

Exactly. The film ends at a high point for Raquel. But that doesn’t mean that she will be happy ever after.

But she now has more ammunition. She has grown.

She has come out of her shell. We have seen her laughing and crying.

Once we realize why she is in that shell, we understand that she literally cannot see or focus because of her deprivations.

I am really glad you liked the film.

Oh, I did! And as I say, it is so unusual to have the viewer change and grow, right along with the character. This is a very wonderful experience to have.

This is a wonderful experience as an artist, to take the view with you on this journey.

What are you working on now?

I am working on several projects but the one that is almost concrete these days is called Second Child, and it is a fiction feature film. I wrote the screenplay in English. It’s an American film about an eight-year old kid who goes on vacation with his family to visit another part of the family. He is homosexual, but he in unaware of his condition – I don’t think you can be aware, really, at that age. But he is definitely going in that direction, and he is in need of male affection.

Is this based on anything personal?

Well it definitely is. I think I am homosexual since I have memory. Not in the way of having an actively sexual life. But just like having feelings toward people of the same sex, and the need of affection and attention.

Sometimes, too I think it can be a visual thing.

Yes, whatever form it takes. Well, the film is about this kid falling in love with his godfather during the country vacation. His cousin is with a friend, a little girl, who has a crush on him, so he is feeling all this pressure and is struggling.

When are you going to start filming?

Well, we are still looking for money.

You want to film it here?

Yes, here! We have done some auditions and are considering some American actors and we’ve also done scouting and locations The project is pretty advanced. so we are just looking for money and then we will be ready to go. It is a summer film so hopefully we will be shooting next year in April and May. That‘s my plan. But you never know with film-making. The environment right now is not so hot. Very hard. If it happens, it happens. That is how I feel with films. They really have to come out organically. You cannot force them. If your force, it changes things. And then it becomes hard and boring. I want it to be smooth and fun. So if it happens, great. If not, I will find something else.

All photos are courtesy of Elephant Eye Films. For access to the complete, earlier interview with Silva mentioned above, click here and then click on PRESS ROOM and then click on download press kit. Once downloaded, scroll to page six and start reading....

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