Fernando Mereilles has, over the past decade, emerged as one of the most prominent and well-respected directors in the world. He might not make blockbusters on the scale of, say, Steven Spielberg or Michael Bay, but he has shown an ability to make both “arty” films and mainstream films that appeal to a wide audience without sacrificing intelligence, originality, and craftsmanship. He has made films from the visionary, violent City of God to the novel adaptation The Constant Gardener, a blissful marriage between the political thriller and the lush romantic drama.
Maids is one of his less well-known offerings. A Google search on the film is likely to throw up results that are mostly reviews or articles about his other films, with Maids just being mentioned in passing. It must also be said that much more attention seems to be paid to Meirelles than to his co-director, Nando Olival, perhaps because Meirelles has much more name recognition.
This film is about five maids who work in the homes of wealthy families. Interestingly, the actual employers are never shown. This helps to keep the focus on the maids themselves—women who are so often shoved into the background in real life—but in some ways, the film loses from the absence of direct portrayal of the relationship between the maids and the people they work for.
Maids is based on the play by Renata Melo, who also plays one of the main characters. The maids each have their own story strands, but they often meet each other outside of work—interactions which lend the film more coherence, instead of allowing it to be a collection of five stories of women who have the same job. The lovely Roxane (Graziela Moretto) wants to be a model, but is tricked into becoming a highly-paid escort. Créo (Lena Roque) is searching for her child, while Raimunda (Cláudia Missura) is hoping to find a husband. Quitéria (Cláudia Missura) is a kind woman whose innocence threatens to get her into trouble. Cida (Melo), for her part, is already married, but is having an affair.
People who watch this film right after having viewed City of God or The Constant Gardener might be expecting a fast-paced, gritty film about the oppression of maids, perhaps including violence and rape. These people will have their expectations shattered. While Maids does depict the hardships of these women and highlights the lack of mobility for working-class people in Brazil, it is actually rather humorous, and often takes a lighthearted approach to lives of toil.
Of course, this approach may also be viewed as a benefit. It is quite likely that Olival and Meirelles, plus the writing team (including both directors: Renata and Cecília Hommem de Mello) were quite aware of how easily a movie with this premise might descend into a piece of misery porn. Whether you find the results a disappointment on a pleasant surprise really depends on what you are looking for in a movie about maids.
In the end, though Maids is not necessarily the very best project Meirelles has directed, and Olival has not directed a film since, the movie is still very worthwhile. It may not be what you expect, but its handling of characters and its balancing of disparate tones make it a film full of subtle pleasures.
Year : 2001
Director : Fernando Meirelles, Nando Olival
Writer : Renata Melo, Fernando Meirelles, Nando Olival, Cecília Hommem de Mello
Starring : Cláudia Missura, Graziela Moretto, Lena Roque, Renata Melo, Olivia Araújo
Country : Brazil
Running time: 85 min.
Genre: drama, comedy