The following is one of the entries from my list of the 100 greatest films (through 2006) from Africa, Latin America & the Caribbean, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
From Renata Melo’s play and filmmaker interviews, Domésticas focuses on five domestics in São Paulo. (There are three million in Brazil.) Following a pseudo-documentary prologue suggesting it’s better not to have been born than to be a domestic, an upbeat montage shows different maids performing various chores. (One is atop a sloped roof adjusting a TV antenna.) One of these is Quitéria, whom Zefa constantly refers to new jobs because Quitéria keeps getting fired. The vase slipped out of her hands, she explains; but a quick insert shows that she smashed the thing. Why? Quitéria owns no such family heirloom; her family history does, however, include slavery, which her employment echoes. Quitéria shrugs as she explains the loss of another job: “The vacuum cleaner got stuck on the dog’s nose.” This seemingly cheerful young woman is seething with revolt. At film’s end, a(n actual?) domestic rages over all she has endured from employers, giving vent to feelings most domestics suppress. Early on, though, Quitéria seems to belong to a lighthearted comedy. Spirited co-directors Fernando Meirelles and Nando Olival never show an employer.
The black-and-white prologue introduces Quitéria. It consists of an overhead shot of her looking up—an ironical posture—and talking directly into the camera. Thereafter, similar black-and-white inserts of housemaids punctuate the film, encapsulating a more reflective mood than her busy life otherwise affords each woman. We also see the women at home. Each one harbors a dream; all hope for a better life. Their lives cross in employer kitchens and on the bus taking them from and to work—motion without progress. Relevant: Quitéria’s mother was also a domestic.
There is a stunning montage of domestic complaints (“They think we are all thieves”) and another of actual domestics, smiling, each doubtless making the best of things.
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