Combustible Celluloid
Search for Posters
Own it:
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Cláudia Missura, Graziela Moretto, Lena Roque, Olivia Araújo, Renata Melo, Robson Nunes, Tiago Moraes
Written by: Cecília Homem de Mello, Fernando Meirelles, Renata Melo, Nando Olival, based on the play by Renata Melo
Directed by: Fernando Meirelles, Nando Olival
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Portuguese with English subtitles
Running Time: 85
Date: 03/18/2013

Domésticas (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Maid to Order

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Maids and servants usually get the short end of the stick in movies. For decades, they were walk-on, one-line parts, usually announcing the arrival of someone more important who could actually further the plot.

But maids recently enjoyed a spot of revenge in Robert Altman's Gosford Park. And now, for no discernable reason, two maid movies open on the same day: the Brazilian Domesticas, at the Rafael Film Center, and the French Murderous Maids, at the Castro Theater (and next week at the Rafael).

Directed by Fernando Meirelles and Nando Olival and based on a popular play, Domesticas follows the lives of five Brazilian maids and their various trials and tribulations. It's a hugely enjoyable and cleverly edited film that works only if you don't consider the heartbreaking truth lurking behind their occupation, which sneaks through in a few "confessional" scenes.

The five maids travel to work together on the city bus. In one scene, two young thugs attempt to rob them but bungle the job when the maids refuse to cooperate and expose the criminals as ineffectual frauds. The maids seem to have power over their own fates.

But one attractive maid who longs to be a model winds up being sexually exploited. Another hunts for a dream husband but ends up with a working-class lug.

Still, you could say the film looks on the bright side. Domesticas rings with life, color and laughter without either insulting or falsely glorifying the servant's life.

Meanwhile, Murderous Maids takes a darker look at this neglected occupation. While Domesticas was based on interviews with hundreds of real-life maids, Murderous Maids is based on a true story (also filmed in 1994 as Sister, My Sister) that took place in 1933.

Christine (Sylvie Testud) is shipped off to work as a maid at a fairly young age. She hates her mother but nurses a strong affection for her younger sister Lea (Julie-Marie Parmentier). (Their older sister only escapes their fate by becoming a nun.)

Christine manages to get her employers to hire Lea, and the sisters soon develop a strangely sexual relationship, which leads to an act of brutal violence on Christine's part.

With such a wonderfully lurid title, filmgoers might be disappointed to know that nothing much happens during the picture's first hour. Director Jean-Pierre Denis does a nice job of establishing atmosphere with his gray color scheme and vertical lines trapping our characters in small areas. But the film might have benefited from a small tease near the beginning, or better yet from a smarter elevation of suspense.

Nevertheless, Murderous Maids has a lot going for it, not least the brilliant performances by Testud (I'm Going Home) and Parmentier (The Town Is Quiet), expressing a wide range of emotions from joyous innocence to unleashed rage.

If you happen to see both Domesticas and Murderous Maids, you'll no doubt feel more appreciative the next time someone leaves a mint on your pillow.

Hulu Castle Rock SVOD