Maher Abi Samra’s A Maid For Each begins in living room in Lebanon, where a local bourgeois woman shows off her maids to the camera. But most of the documentary takes place at an agency where those maids start out. It barely shows the maids and instead shows the agent, taking calls telling clients about what languages his maids speak and where they’ve worked. He’s matter of fact about these maids’ skills. He doesn’t need to do a sales pitch to sell them. Maids are necessary in Lebanese society, a sign of wealth for people who delude themselves into thinking they require care.
My sympathy is obviously with the workers for reasons I might explain later, the people that the camera barely show. But something interesting happens here in that viewers might see that nobody is purely evil. Not even someone actively working in something adjacent to contemporary slavery. We’ll actually look for ways to find the good within the agent, and it’s there if he talks long enough. He does say that only he and his assistant Helen have the keys to the agency which houses the maids looking for bosses. Something might happen to the maids and they feel responsible, for a minute.
There’s a part of me that wished that the documentary didn’t stay with the agent long enough to find that moment of vulnerability from him. Or that it would find other and more places to film. What happens within the office is interesting enough, as he turns his windows into a whiteboard. He assigns numbers to the maids who come from different countries. Maids from the Philippines, my home country, cost $3700, or whatever that is in Lebanese pounds. He’s not interested in explaining why certain maids cost more money, and Abi Samra should have at least probed him for an explanation.
There’s a general give and take in what Abi Samra chooses to represent in A Maid. The problematically offscreen maids and the agent have conversations in both Arabic and ‘Ethiopian’. This is strange because Ethiopia has a few languages. But at least these conversations are taking place, and viewers can wish that the maids are talking back but not to a troublesome extent. Even without showing the maids, the documentary expresses that they’re both cynical and intelligent. “Nothing will change in a new house,” she says. Change can come, but the situation feels apocalyptic and dire.
Watch A Maid for Each on OVID.