Eye For Film >> Movies >> Au Pair (2011) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
I'm a film weeper, no doubt about it - but it's unusual for a movie to move me to tears within the first two minutes. But I felt them welling up alongside au pair Matet as she held an emotional video call with her cancer-stricken mum between Denmark and the Philippines. She is one of three au pairs whose lives are explored in Nicole N Horanyi and Heidi Kim Andersen's eye-opening documentary. Matet, along with Theresa and Roselie, is part of a huge community of Filipinos who travel to Denmark as au pairs in order to send money back home to pay for everything from relatives' schooling to medical care.
The financial pressure on them is huge and, even though many of them have bachelor degrees and other professional qualifications, the lure of Danish cash is strong. One girl reveals she earns 335 euros (£269) a month, of which she sends £215 home. The issue is that, in Denmark, au pairs are still classed as being on 'cultural exchange' and therefore get an allowance rather than a wage, which it seems can vary hugely from family to family. There is also the problem of their visa duration, with many - although not the women here - choosing to marry locally not for love but for the residency it brings.
Horanyi and Andersen focus on the women and their attempts to maintain their connection with home. We meet them in their off-hours rather than at work, which helps the documentary to concentrate on their hopes and fears rather than get bogged down in the nature of their employers, although a token interview with someone who uses au pairs would have been welcome. Theresa hasn't seen her daughter in the flesh for 18 months, she says she hopes she will understand "in time" why she had to come away and reveals her desire to run a small business back home eventually, although elsewhere in the documentary the subject of savings is treated with derisory laughter. Matet is struggling to pay her mother's chemotherapy bills, which amount to more than her salary, and Roselie is desperate to find a new employer in neighbouring Norway before her visa runs out.
The film lets the women tell their own stories and also captures their families at home in the Philippines, where they dream of the ways their daughters' money can improve their lives. A portrait of powerlessness and personal tragedies emerges at the same time as celebrating the au pairs' determination and fortitude. Horanyi and Andersen create a balanced picture, exploring failings on both the Filipino and Danish side of the equation. In the final analysis though, the au pairs are losing emotionally even as they gain financially. Food for thought.Reviewed on: 21 Jun 2012
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