With a wit and naturalness that Ken Loach’s “Bread and Roses” might envy, this bright Brazilian comedy offers an entertaining view of cleaning ladies working in the metropolis of Sao Paulo. In “Maids,” co-directors Fernando Meirelles and Nando Olival adopt the winning strategy of having characters tell their stories to the camera in their own humorous voices. Though the maids are played by actresses (film is based on a successful stage play), their intercut stories are well-researched and convincing. Fast and funny, sexy and sad, pic jumps from one mood to another, holding audience interest not just narratively but with sophisticated film work. It’s a possibility for offbeat programming as well as fest fare.
Film establishes its ironic atmosphere from the start, when six housemaids are “interviewed” complaining about their employers (never seen in the film), explaining how they found their jobs, where they live and with whom. “Being a maid isn’t a wish — it’s fate,” intones one. Roxane, who gives herself airs, takes a modeling course that turns out to be an entry into hooking.
Another girl creates disaster wherever she’s hired. A woman whose husband is dullsville takes up with a sexy chauffeur. Another falls for a boy on the road to crime, and so on.
With skilled help from cinematographer Lauro Escorel, helmers make clever use of unexpected black-and-white sequences, direct narrative, fast motion and other techniques to keep visuals lively and erase the tale’s stage origin.
But equal credit goes to the ensemble cast of actresses, who communicate the hurt of being looked down on as expendable household help, while they bring the maids to life as likable, fully rounded individuals.