The Housemaid review

:. Director: Im Sang-soo
:. Starring: Jeon Do-yeon, Lee Jung-Jae
:. Running Time: 1:46
:. Year: 2010
:. Country: South Korea

By offering a look into the cruel world of the haute bourgeoisie, The Housemaid exalts a poisonous atmosphere, almost agonizing, which is enhanced by expert directing, but is perhaps a little too aesthetic. Still, the film is well balanced from start to finish and reflects the image of the world it portrays: cold and icy, smooth and slick. The directing technique cuts sharply into the opening scene of the film, shot in quasi-documentary style: short and mobile shots, the hubbub of the city's nightlife, a plethora of bright colors, the proximity between merchants and passersby, the scene of a drama, the suicide of a woman, anonymous, a simple outline drawn in chalk, but with the imprint of a pool of dried blood. In contrast, the rest of the film has elegant camera movements, balanced framing which is almost acrobatic, a classic rhythm, and a mono-colored palette. The sterile decor is confined to where tragedies occur in silence without leaving their space, where they disappear without a trace, reduced to ashes.

The Housemaid, is the remake of a classic Korean film made in 1960 by Kim Ki-young and tells the story of a young butcher hired as governess in a high standing family. Invested in her work, she finds herself at the service of a beautiful young housewife, pregnant with twins and mother of a child brought up to resemble his father, a wealthy industrialist accustomed from an early age to possessing without effort, that is to say, in the condescending manner of the powerful who "treat people with respect to better show their superiority" (sic). When she succumbs to the advances of her boss, in a scene charged with erotic beauty, the balance of the family, previously preserved by the ageing housekeeper (fabulous interpretation by Youn Yuh-jung), falters.

If the scenario stretches too long in the latter part of the film, The Housemaid is nevertheless an accomplished work that achieves its purpose: to transcribe the oppression of lower classes, destined to serve as small docile ants, dominated by cold, lifeless beings. Ironically, a sense of claustrophobia emerges from the vast space that is the family home and the void that surrounds its inhabitants with its sober and refined decor. While the story is lost in the maze of social drama, the final scene (before a superfluous epilogue due to being overly emotional) of a rare intelligence completes this cruel portrait (warning, spoiler inside!): The girl sacrifices herself before the family, not so much to shock the bourgeois but to transmit a traumatic experience to their daughter. Vain attempt: the fire alarm goes off, the water immediately erases the traces of the tragedy, the housekeeper takes care of everything, her masters needing only take refuge behind a window to watch the development, unperturbed. This scene encapsulates all the intelligence and subtlety of the film.

  Moland Fengkov
  Translated into English by Christina Azarnia

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