One of the best documentaries that I’ve seen in the last year is Vous êtes Servis by Spanish-Belgium filmmaker Jorge León. A friend of mine saw it in Sarajevo and subsequently screened it at Cine Migratorio, a film festival on migration in Santander (Cantabria, Spain). It details the plight of maids-to-be in a recruitment center in Jogjakarta, Indonesia.
How do you clean a microwave? How to get the washing machine started? How to speak Mandarin? How to serve your bosses guests in a popper manner? All skills that the women at the recruitment Centre for maids have to learn before they are send to work throughout Asia or the Middle-East.
This documentary contrasts images of women preparing to go abroad with letters home that cry out the horrible circumstances under which they have to work. The style that the filmmaker use reminds us of Wes Anderson, in the focus on inanimate objects and the subtle application of a reoccurring prime-color. The objects form the tools that these women have to use daily, they become an extension of their being, in the eyes of some of their bosses, these women become those machines. Even in the way they are presented in identical white and red checkered aprons and a crisp white shirt, against a red backdrop, makes them into like-minded drones.
We meet new recruits, the agents, the jaded maids waiting for their opportunity to earn, the teachers and the boss. The subject matter of this film is similar to that of Abner Benaim’s documentary from 2010 ‘Maids & Bosses’, as it tries to show what these woman have to go through in order to provide for their family. However ‘Vous êtes serves’ does it in such an aesthetically interesting manner where the horror that one maid experiences in Abu Dhabi follows the joyous laughter of an aerobics class. The books filled with the portraits of the maids in waiting, like mail-order brides, juxtaposing it with the stills of a woman saying goodbye to her husband and son. We see the lengths that people have to go through to ensure that their children will have better lives, while destroying themselves and leaving their families behind.
The joyious melancholy of their smiles and laughs eats at you when they are contrasted with their stories of woe. The knowledge that every month 35.000 Indonesian women leave the country to work abroad is such a large amount that you can’t fully grasp the individual lives involved. However this documentary tries to show the stories of these de facto slaves.