“Rosana, can you help me with this?”
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of servants in this day and age. Money notwithstanding, just thinking about sitting at a dinner table and asking someone to do something you could have completed in the time it took to ask is impossible to fathom. Add the dynamic of an entitled secondary employer and the whole thing becomes even less so. Clara Roquet‘s El Adiós takes great care to show just how much the deceased matriarch of this wealthy Bolivian family meant to their maid Rosana (Jenny Rios) and yet the woman’s daughter (Mercé Pons) remains oblivious. So intent on ensuring everything’s perfect to her tastes, Mercé can’t comprehend how a hired hand would care to do anything but what she’s told. Truth be told, Rosana was probably more of a daughter than she ever proved beyond blood.
The film’s full of presumptions on behalf of Mercé—ideas only someone out of touch with the real world could believe. To her Rosana knows nothing else so it’s assumed she’d simply carry on her work with the next generation, helping maintain her household and raising her daughter Júlia (Júlia Danés) no questions asked. It’s this certainty in Mercé’s actions and tone that make you want Rosana to smack her in the face, but this working class woman is too spiritual and mature for such behavior. Instead she simply nods in acquiesce at each turn, smiling when Mercé orders her to change her mother’s burial attire from red to white for selfish reasons. Rosana knows her late employer wanted the red and she’s going to honor that wish. This is her memorial after all, not Mercé’s coronation.
Ríos is fantastic, stoically heartfelt and caught in a world that’s doubled as her personal and public realm. She worked in the house, but was also a human being we infer her boss treated with respect and equality—enough to leave Rosana with the desire to witness her being laid to rest. Rosana’s the one who compassionately follows routine on such a grievous day, bottling up sadness to do right by the woman everyone else arrives to remember. The sense of entitlement from Pons is therefore enough to send you into a rage. While this is the environment in which she grew, she doesn’t have the right or place to blindly set this employee’s future as though property. Witnessing Rosana’s composure proves inspiring, her loyalty reaching just far enough to fulfill her duty to the deceased. No more.
Courtesy of TIFF