8 February 2017 | JvH48
Two main story lines, housemaid within well-to-do household combined with a gated community against outside world, eventually resulting in a violent climax
Saw this movie at the Rotterdam film festival 2017 (website: iffr.com). It certainly takes its time to develop and to come to a finale, the latter very far away from the living-happily-ever-after category in spite of the peaceful start of the story. Two disjoint and very different worlds, separated by an electrified fence and an access gate with guards, are bound to build a lot of distrust against each other. This cannot end otherwise than in violence.
In hindsight, the violence in the finale is foreshadowed by some of Belen's acts that are not proper for a housemaid, like collecting part of the abundantly present china and throwing it in the canal, an act looking like some sort of civil disobedience against her employers. This is small scale resistance but it gets much worse.
By the way, there is no solid reason for her obstinacy, as the household treats her respectfully as far as normal employment relations go for a resident housemaid, yet one counts on her assistance 7/24 and considers that as a matter of course. A perfect example is the scene where the mistress wakes her up with a stupid "were you asleep?" question, and asks Belen to keep her company while she watches home videos, showing her son when he was a young boy being forced more or less into becoming a tennis pro. The mistress fell asleep in the process, but insisted that Belen stayed after she tried to sneak out from the sofa.
A parallel story line starts when Belen spots a nudist camp nearby, a different world altogether piquing her interest. She approaches it cautiously at first, but eventually becomes a full member and participates in many activities. She is not a humble servant in this neighboring world. Everyone is equal instead, at a place with an atmosphere that seems very open and relaxed.
There is a third but less prominent story, yet important for later developments. Belen goes out every now and then with one of the security guards of the gated community. We observe them going out, for example visiting a fair and playing with the various fairground amusements. I don't remember any intimacy, and they don't talk very much to another either, just going out and enjoying being away from their daily duties.
One scene in the nudist camp was demeaning, in my opinion, where everyone was painted as wild animals (lion, tiger, etc) and making appropriate noises, apparently a role play. And where couples were formed, all having more or less sex with another in more or less intimate stages. It enforces popular belief about nudist camps that suppressed sex is the underlying reason behind dropping your clothes. Other scenes compensated such a biased portrayal, like reading poems or dancing together.
Things go nasty when the neighborhood organizes a petition against the nudist camp and everything "that is going on there" allegedly. We observed some shooting before, like when a dead bird (black!) dropped into the swimming pool after some nearby shots were heard, but the finale offers more shooting than I was prepared for. The fence around the gated community has a dominant role albeit allegorically, as this separates two disjoint worlds who won't ever understand each other. Normally the fence is under electric power, but the guard where Belen goes out with occasionally, has once shown her how to switch the power off, thereby creating a shortcut between two disjoint ecosystems.
The three story lines intertwine with each other seamlessly, all the time showing progress in developments. Maybe the progression is a bit slow, but some things are necessary to arrive at a logical climax. The screenplay plants several seeds underway, all of which comes together at the finale and wraps up the story. Personally, I would have preferred less bloodshed and less waste of human lives, as all the shooting we see cannot and will not solve anything.
All in all, strong acting and a sufficiently complex plot to keep up interested. The housemaid situation would not have been enough to construct a compelling story, but the combination with the neighboring nudist camp changes it to the better. I'm prepared to score a 7 out of 10. The festival visitors in Rotterdam thought otherwise, and ranked this movie at a lowly 165th place (out of 172) with an average score of 2.858 (out of 5).