MVFF: The Housemaid (B)

The Housemaid, from South Korea, was a big hit a this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Jeon Do-yeon won the Best Actress award there, and she along with two other women in this film really are quite good. The film also received a lot of attention there for some very racy scenes. It’s a remake of a 1960 South Korean film. Lat night was the U.S. premiere.

At first I graded this a C or C-. But like some films do, it has grown on me. Cessna and I found we had more to talk about after this film than any, and that’s usually a good sign.

It’s an Upstairs/Downstairs story about a young housemaid employed in an over-the-top wealthy household. The aristocratic family are supposed to be creepy and scary, but for the first half of the film they’re just posing. Not just the actors, but the director keeps giving us visual tableaus to show off their Hearst Castle of a home. It’s unnecessary and boring, hence my original low score. But just when I was ready to give up, a new character (played brilliantly by Park Ji-young) enters and the creepiness begins in earnest. From that midpoint on, things get satisfyingly stranger and stranger. It’s becomes less superficial and more deeply psychological. Yoon Yeo-jeong, as the older servant is terrific throughout.

I found myself wishing I understood how this film would be perceived in the context of South Korean culture, about which I know nothing. Given the attention it received at Cannes and the fact that it has been picked up by IFC Films, I’m sure it will be talked about quite a bit. An unusual number of viewers were turned off by the overt sex and walked out. If that doesn’t bother you, this is a film worth seeing if you’re willing to wait until the second half for the best performances and story.

By the way, the trailer below is quite misleading. There’s no English-language song in the film like that in the trailer. You’re better off watching it without sound.

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