This is a disturbing examination of contemporary slavery in Lebanon. Roser Corella’s film starts off in a somber setting: a blank screen with a phone call to a domestic staffing agency. The dialogue, which lists potential workers based on their nationality and salary, is disturbing in its casual indifference, as if the women were nothing more than objects to be bought and controlled.
The kafala system in Lebanon grants employers complete control over migrant workers, leaving domestic workers vulnerable without any protection from labour laws. Upon arrival, these women have their passports confiscated by their host families, a practice advised by the agents themselves. In fear of being deported, these workers endure long hours, overcrowded living conditions, physical mistreatment, and more, all in hopes of supporting their families in countries like Bangladesh and Ethiopia. Additionally, many employers withhold the already meager salaries of their workers as punishment or a means of preventing them from escaping.
One troubling sequence swings back and forth between the kitchen, where a maid is working, and the living room, where Lebanese women casually discuss the pros and cons of different “types” of servants. Entrenched by legislation as well as cultural attitudes, the dehumanisation of migrant workers is so complete that the maid’s presence makes little difference to the women’s xenophobic discourse.
Foreign workers are frequently hired in Lebanon, to the extent that new home designs often include a designated space for a “maid” that is typically small and inadequate. The film by Corella frequently shows high-rise apartments with clean windows, hiding the suffering of the cleaners who often resort to jumping to their deaths as a means of escape.