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Published on September 23rd, 2013 | by Apuntes LJ

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La Nana

A Review of the 2009 Chilean Film

About Jorge Ruffinelli
ruffinelli Jorge Ruffinelli is Department Director and Professor of Iberian and Latin American Cultures at Stanford University. Since the 1990s, his research has focused on Latin American cinema. He is completing the first “Encyclopedia of Latin American Cinema,” for which he has written around two thousand articles about feature films from and about Latin America.
A native of Montevideo, Uruguay, Professor Ruffinelli lives and works in Stanford, California.

This review of the movie La Nana (Sebastián Silva, Chile, 2009) was translated from Jorge Ruffinelli’s América Latina en 130 Películas, published by Uqbar Editores.

In the morning, when family members have left for school or work, Raquel, the “nana” [maid], feels like the queen of the house, the house where she has served for 20 years. When she is there alone, the house is all hers: she cleans it, goes through it, examines it. She knows it so well. The fine and delicate clothes of the lady of the house are also all hers, and she tries them on in front of the mirror. The live-in maid, an aged institution in Chile as in most of Latin America, finds in Raquel its prototype.

“The children adore me,” she comments, referring to the two younger ones. But truth be known, she does not adore or love anybody. Raquel is constantly at war with everyone. She responds grudgingly to questions from Pilar, the lady of the house, always reminding her that she “has a lot work to attend to.” She keeps an indifferent distance from Mundo, Pilar’s husband. She gives away Lucas, the teenaged son, when she complains about having to wash his semen-stained sheets every day. And with 20-year-old Camila, she quietly commits acts of childish aggression, like vacuuming in front of the young woman’s room early in the morning.

The family that has enslaved Raquel for over two decades, however, treats her with affection. On her 41st birthday, they call her over to the family table (she normally eats by herself in the kitchen) to blow out the candles on her birthday cake and receive some inexpensive gifts. Pilar also helps her with the dishes that day, and all seem to live as a harmonious middle-class family, content with themselves and their help. They feel so protective towards Raquel that, when the maid faints, a victim of her chronic headaches, they take her to the hospital. When back at home, they talk her into resting in her room.

Acknowledging Raquel’s frail condition, Pilar hires another maid to lighten Raquel’s load. But Raquel, not about to lose control over her space, gets rid of one maid and then another using various ploys available to the weak (like tricking them into leaving the house and then locking them out). But the third one, Lucy, changes her life. Lucy’s friendliness, feisty attitude (she takes off her clothes and sunbathes when Raquel locks her out), contagious happiness, and above all, her clear intention not to compete (from the beginning telling Raquel that she doesn’t want to be a maid forever), end up winning over Raquel and letting her discover worlds that her reclusiveness has kept her from knowing.

Silva’s screenplay was inspired by his own family, and he filmed the movie in his parents’ house, where he was raised and undoubtedly knew many Nanas.  The movie does not pretend to be a social critique, or an examination of class relations, although it does touch on racial prejudices, in this case against Peruvians: the second maid is from Perú, and Raquel washes the tub with lime after the other maid showers. A more in-depth look reveals that the movie is a fierce, albeit restrained, depiction of the interdependence among social classes.

Seldom, if ever, does a Chilean film deal with so much clarity and affection with the role of the “subordinate,” in this case a domestic worker, and with the question that social scientists so frequently ask: who speaks for him/her. In this excellent film, there are several who “speak for her,” primarily Catalina Saavedra, who approaches her role as Raquel with great interpretative intuition. Everyone in the movie does a good job, but Saavedra and Mariana Loyola (who plays Lucy) are extraordinary.

By concentrating on their roles and the complex, at times dark, resentful, and contradictory psychology of the Raquel character, without turning her into martyr or heroine, the movie allows a human sensibility to emerge and dissolves stereotypes.

In the same way that Lucy doesn’t feel comfortable in her job as a maid, far away from her family, and at the end leaves because she misses them, Raquel is able to take back her fictitious space and her role within it. She lives with a family not her own but treats them as if they were. In the end, she finds herself in control of her own actions, even if she is just imitating Lucy by jogging outside in the evenings, equipped with an ear piece and listening to music.

 

“La Nana” is available on Netflix.

América Latina en 130 documentales (Spanish Edition), by Jorge Ruffinelli (May 2013), Kindle Edition is available on Amazon.com

América Latina en 130 películas (Spanish Edition), by Jorge Ruffinelli (2010), paperback and Kindle editions are available on Amazon.com

 


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