Sunday, October 18, 2009

Reverend’s Interview: Cleaning Up with Director Sebastián Silva

Those who can afford domestic servants (although “employees” is likely the more PC term today) have famously been heard to say, “It’s so hard to find good help.” Having been raised in a large, middle-class household in Santiago, Chile, gay filmmaker Sebastián Silva had his own, unique struggles with the outsiders his parents hired to look after him and his siblings.

“Our family’s maid was like a second mother,” Silva reflects, “but I didn’t want a second mother. The maid has the right to boss you around … she’s someone that’s living at your house 24-7 and she really is in charge of you.”

Thirty years later, Silva continues to wrestle with his memories of these adjunct women who helped raise him. His latest movie, The Maid (now playing in New York and scheduled to open in Los Angeles this Friday), is an insightful, often provocative attempt to explore the psyche of one such woman. The very well made, naturalistic result won two major awards in the World Cinema division at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.


Silva, who is also an accomplished painter and musician, recently took time to discuss The Maid with Movie Dearest from his current home in New York.

CC: Do you consciously bring a gay sensibility to your work?
SS: Actually no, not consciously, but both of my films have homosexual connotations between the main characters. My first film, La Vida me Mata, is about a man whose brother dies. He meets a man who looks like and reminds him of his brother, but he gets more involved in the man’s life than he ever did in his brother’s. In The Maid, it’s between Raquel (the title character, brought to life via a great performance by Catalina Saavedra) and Lucy (another maid played by Mariana Loyola).

CC: What, if anything, unique should a gay or lesbian viewer take from The Maid?
SS: Well, gay and lesbian viewers have picked up on the potentially homosexual attraction between Raquel and Lucy nearly 100% of the time. Raquel is kind of crazily in love with Lucy but probably wouldn’t act on it, just as she doesn’t act on sex with Lucy’s uncle but tells Lucy she does. For 20 years, she’s been operating from a 16- or 17-year old’s emotional intelligence and just been going slowly crazy.


CC: You co-wrote the film with your ex-boyfriend, Pedro Peirano. How was that experience or process?
SS: (Pedro) is a very well known writer in Chile, and has done some very good cult TV shows. It’s actually amazing to co-write with him. We have co-written my two scripts that have gotten made. You learn to be really, really honest and to cause trouble, which makes the script better.

CC: It seems to me that, in the US, an openly gay filmmaker tends to be permitted to only make specifically gay-themed films. Has that been your experience or observation?
SS: No, not at all. One can find homosexual implications in every film. Have you seen (Walt Disney’s 1940 animated classic) Bambi? It’s the gayest film ever! I don’t believe in stereotyping films. As a filmmaker, I need to write about more complex topics. I don’t believe gay filmmakers should only make gay movies and vice versa. After all, Brokeback Mountain was made by a straight man (Ang Lee).

CC: In your film, was the character of Raquel inspired by a particular real-life person?
SS: The Maid is a very emotional film for me. I can narrow it to one sentence: “She’s more or less family.” It’s that ambiguity. It has to do with struggling with not being able to love or be loved. Neither the maid nor the people in the household know where they stand in terms of emotional connection or affection. I was really young when I first had an experience with someone coming into the family like that. I would go against any kind of authority in my house.


The closest character to me in the film isn’t Lukas (the eldest male child, played by Silva’s real-life brother, Agustin), it’s Camilla (the daughter, played by Andrea García-Huidobro) which is a little embarrassing. In the film, Camilla goes against Raquel because there is a jealousy between the two of them. I didn’t have that jealousy with the real maid but I did have the rebel thing.

CC: What will the two new projects you are working on be about?
SS: One is an infomercial project entitled Complete Body & Identity Surveillance: Call Now! It utilizes the concept of a fully-detailed, nude filming of one’s body and a psychiatric examination to identify one’s current identity. We are looking for people to come to New York in November to be filmed and paid $1,000 per person. They have to pay their own way to New York though. If interested, people can contact us at idservicefilm@gmail.com.

CC: Sounds very interesting! And your other project?
SS: It is called Second Child, and is about an 8-year old kid who has homosexual feelings but doesn’t know the best way to deal with them. He first falls in love with his godfather and later with an African-American family man. It’s more about affection than sexuality. Lee Daniels (director of the current film festival favorite Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire) is serving as executive producer.


CC: Your biography states you once pitched a film project — unsuccessfully — to Steven Spielberg.
SS: Yes, I was sent to Hollywood by a mystic character in Chile to pitch an idea specifically to Steven Spielberg. I never met him, but it turned out to be a fun experience and all good. I’ve actually written a script based on the experience. It’s called May I Talk to Steven Spielberg?

CC: Is there anything else you want Movie Dearest readers to know about you?
SS: I’m currently single and looking for a boyfriend. Be sure to say that! New York people are afraid to love. That, and I hope to make films forever.

Click here to watch the trailer for The Maid.

UPDATE: The Maid is now available on DVD from Amazon.com.

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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