‘The Pleasure of Being Served:’ The undocumented immigrant’s dilemma

Hudson, portrayed by Graham Powell, seeks Rosa’s advice about his complicated love life.

Hudson, portrayed by Graham Powell, seeks Rosa’s advice about his complicated love life.

By Cristina DC Pastor

Time and again, one hears the archetypal narrative about the undocumented immigrant who is torn between principle and pragmatism.

Michael Manese’s “The Pleasure of Being Served” is one such story. The 15-minute short film tells how undocumented housemaid Rosa must choose between continuing to work for her rakish boss and leaving. The source of her dilemma is that Hudson is sleeping with two women, which should really not be a concern of hers as long as she is paid, as he points out. But both women have become friends with Rosa. Rosa’s conscience can no longer remain complicit, having to cover up for one woman or the other just so her boss can keep up his “immoral” lifestyle.

It may seem like a thin plot, but the story is layered with many complicated emotions that speak to some immigrants: Rosa’s loneliness living in the shadows of her illegal status; her friendship with Hudson’s Filipina girlfriend, Lynn; her conservative upbringing; her status as a wife separated from a Filipino husband who is a womanizer.

When Lynn discovers a pair of black sneakers that belongs to the American girlfriend Jennifer, Rosa steps up to say the pair is hers. Lynn is skeptical, but at that juncture Rosa is able to shield her boss from a likely confrontation. At this point also, she realizes she can no longer continue with the lies. She offers to quit. Hudson refuses to let her go. She demands a higher wage. The movie ends here: Will he agree to pay more to keep his very competent maid, or will he give her up? One is left to wonder how the film will end but the conclusion can be any way the viewer wants it to drift.

In the end, said Manese, who wrote and directed the film,”I wanted to show that Hudson and Rosa need each other more than they realize.”

Maan Cruz is Rosa, the domestic worker with no papers and lots of angst about her job

Maan Cruz is Rosa, the domestic worker with no papers but with lots of angst about her job

“The Pleasure of Being Served” is a lighthearted flick redolent with references to the Filipino immigrant life: the ‘pasalubong’ for Rosa’s family in the Philippines, the cold train ride home squeezed among tired, passive commuters like her; the episodes of hard work, diligence and keeping quiet, not to mention the Filipino accent that is just starting to be Americanized. Rosa is the efficient housekeeper and one to cast a blind eye to her boss’ unconventional ways, as when Hudson and Jennifer step naked into the shower while she is cleaning the bathroom. She speaks up only when she is cornered, when she begins to partake of the lies.

The actors are all competent, especially Graham Powell, as Hudson, whose expression of incomprehension over his maid’s moralizing appears very credible. Maan Cruz as Rosa is suitably cast as the Pinay domestic worker, brown and a little heavy in the middle. However, she is prone to over-emote using her face. Sometimes, understated acting can convey just as effectively conflicting emotions of anger, confusion, love for one’s work, and resignation over one’s fate. I think Angelita Esperanza is miscast as Lynn in a physical sense. Her acting is decent, but her body type is not much different from Cruz. I would have wanted to see someone slender, more elegant-looking just to keep the two Filipina actresses apart. But that’s just a minor discrepancy that can be remedied by a good stylist.

The movie is worth watching. It is a great conversation starter on how some of us dealt with our own personal struggles with integrity when we were undocumented and trying to survive.

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