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La Nana ***½

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La Nana looks like it could become a comedy of manners, a camp melodrama, or a sinister horror. Sebastián Silva revels in this ambiguity, and the film stoically defies genre conformity. What emerges is a touching portrait of Raquel, maid to the bourgeois Valdes family, as she suffers a mental breakdown born of emotional isolation and dependency. Rather than exploit her for a genre twist, the film allows her to crumble, lash out, and then heal. Testament to Catalina Saavedra’s performace (and the maturity of the script) is the degree of sympathy we feel for Raquel, a character so easily reviled or pitied.

The MaidShe expresses her frustration and anxiety first through bullying the daughter of the household, and then by exercising obsessive control over the work of help hired to support her through apparent senility. Her behaviour descends into a sinister escalation of petty terrors only tolerated by the mistress of the house because of Raquel’s long history with the family. By the time she’s driven two others to quit, Raquel has emerged as a complex and desperate woman who needs nothing more than to be cared for and interacted with ingenuously. And she gets just this from the last arrival, a confident and earthy Mariana Loyola playing Lucy. By simply recognising Raquel’s domestic insanity as a cry for help, and through endlessly positive responses to her lashing out, Lucy brings about a change in Raquel, most sensitively observed by Saavedra. Raquel’s body language begins to soften, and she discovers her physicality by turns, building to a heartening climactic jog.

La Nana is technically simple and clean, giving Silva’s actors room to drive home a character-driven drama which unfolds within personalities. The minimalism of its premise may not appeal to an audience with too little patience for attention to detail, which is a shame, because it’s a worthwhile journey.


La Nana, Dir. & Writ. Sebastian Silva, Writ. Pedro Peirano, Star. Catalina Saavedra, Claudia celedón, Mariana Loyola, Forastero, Chile, 2009


Written by James P. Campbell

20/06/2009 at 13:00

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