Summer Cinema from South of the Border

Fernando Meirelles’ ‘Maids’

Usually, I don’t go for movies about everyday people’s everyday lives. I really have no interest in that since, if my life’s any indication, watching two hours of someone else’s life is sure to put me to sleep faster than four Vicodin with a chaser of HRD. But aside from my ass aching from the old and uncomfortable seats at the Guild (the only thing I don’t like about it), I spent the 90 minutes of “Maids (Domesticas)” with a toothy grin on my face.

Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”) manages to tell the story of five maids in contemporary Sao Paulo without loading up on condescending pity or rabid denouncements of the squalid conditions that exist alongside the rich homes the women work in. When this imbalance is brought up, it is the maids who cast enlightened eyes upon it. They perceptively illuminate with choice phrases like “I don’t think the world is going to end. We are going to end,” while they gaze onto slums out the window of a commuter bus in grainy black and white.

Although titled “Maids,” the women’s work takes a backseat to their character development. Roxane works to get on TV but ends up being recruited into some kind of escort service, presented in a non-judgmental way that was refreshing. It was yet another nuance which reminded me that this film could not have come from the US.

Most importantly, the film was funny. Although the two other people in the theater didn’t laugh all that much, the maids’ private beratings of their employers were hilarious. The play between Rai, her fianc퀌� and his best friend (advising him not to marry her), taking place on a motorcycle and cutting between the pairs – each image of marital bliss deflated by a cynical barb – was superlative.

Meirelles and screenwriter Nando Olival were able to capture the humanity and personality of the characters without turning the film into an annoying and over-the-top sob story of overcoming adversity or a boring account of day-to-day drudgery. Because “Maids” avoided the typical moralistic preachiness, it was honest, moving and enjoyable.