Silva based his film La nana on his own experiences growing up in Chile with a live-in maid. He even meticulously recreated his own bedroom drawings on the walls of the set. That background gives the movie a documentary feel that made me squirm at times—it’s a little too real, but you also can’t turn your eyes away.
There must be an awkwardness that inevitably comes with having another human being share your house and your secrets, but not necessarily your family’s kinship. Because of the employer-employee relationship between a maid and a family, there will always be some boundaries. So after the family in La nana gives a cake and a litter of presents to Raquel—the family maid from the title of the film—for her 41st birthday, she’s still expected to wash the dishes afterward. Of course, she herself expects the same having already served the family in such a way for 23 years.
The film is basically a character study of Raquel…and she is quite a character. She’s grumpy, duty-bound, feisty, and mysterious. She has a different relationship with each of the family members. The head-strong daughter thinks Raquel hates her (and she’s probably right!), father is aloof, mother is her apologist, and the sexually awakening son seems to have stronger feelings of affection for Raquel than for his own mother.
Early on in the movie we discover that the years of toiling for this moneyed Chilean family has started to take its toll on the maid. Raquel is popping painkillers because of her extreme headaches, and she’s walking through the days like a zombie at times. Mother decides to bring on extra help for Raquel, but that just makes things worse. She’s not much for sharing duties, and it seems that having another maid in the house violates all of Raquel’s conceptions of personal space and individual responsibility. And so, at least for this audience member, one has the feeling that this is all building towards some horrible end as a cold war between maid and family daughter escalates, and an active war between maid and the helper of the week gets downright nasty. But Silva doesn’t let things get totally out of control before shifting gears, and the film takes a couple of twists no one would have guessed. Mostly they come because of the introduction of a character very different from Raquel—a free-spirited helper from the countryside named Lucy. Lucy has more than one surprise in store for Raquel, who is used to being the one with surprises…especially for new labor in the household.
I was worried when I first saw the trailer for La nana. I thought it might be torturous to watch. But Catalina Saavedra is mesmerizing as Raquel, and she is surrounded by a strong cast, including the director’s real-life brother Augustín, who plays the family’s teenage son. And as I suggested before, the film takes some turns—very good ones I should add—that I never would have guessed from the preview. As well, the movie ends in a place I never would have guessed from sitting through the first half of the film. I definitely recommend this one.