The issue of in-house maids in Singapore is a rather significant one. There are about 150.000 of them working in the country (whose population at the time the film was shot was 4,4 million), with about 60,000 of them being Indonesian. Furthermore, many of the Indonesian ones are married women with children, who leave their families behind in order to make some money outside the country. Their professional circumstances are quite difficult, since they are at the mercy of their bosses and agents, can hardly speak the language, and get almost no money for the first 10 months they work, in order to pay for their training and the agency fees. Lastly, they get days off very rarely, a fact that provides the title of the short.
“No Day Off” is a film about one such woman, 24-year-old Siti, who leaves her husband and baby in Sulawesi to attend two-month training in another Indonesian island, before she goes to work in Singapore and to pay the debt she has amassed. As mentioned in the prologue, her debt increases before she is able to start earning some “real” money (which, in this case, amounts to $143 per month), while we watch her slaving for a period of six years, for three different families.
The first family is quite rich, living in a mansion full of luxury, where they drink wines that cost more than Siti’s monthly salary, drive expensive sport cars, and are always eager to yell at or insult their maid, in a language she barely understands (they speak English). As they pass her along another family when they decide to move out of the country, as if she was an object, she ends up in an even worse situation, since the Chinese family that takes her in is quite poor, and cannot even afford to pay her in the end. Her last placement is better though, in the home of a terminally ill man whose daughter hires Siti, since they speak a language she can understand. Soon a bond is developed between her and the dying man. However, this does not last for long, while bad news from Sulawesi makes her situation even worse.
Eric Khoo directs a very humane film, which deals with the issue of the in-house maids in dramatic, but very realistic fashion, almost bordering on the documentary in its approach. Jason Tan’s cinematography moves in this direction, with him presenting much of the film in a first person perspective, through Siti’s eyes. Even when the perspective changes to the third person, her employers are never shown on screen, just their voices are heard. This tactic ensures the focus remains on Siti and her hardships, who, in essence, represents all maids working in Singapore, while it also functions as a visualization of the facts and numbers Khoo periodically shows on screen.
Lastly, the film functions as a video-diary, since it is presented in “acts”, with each one indicating beforehand how many days have passed since Siti left her hometown.
Siti Rhama in the protagonist role gives a very naturalistic performance, in perfect resonance with the film’s aesthetics, highlighting her kept-in struggles in a laconic but also eloquent way.
In the 37 minutes “No Day Off”, Eric Khoo manages to portray a very significant issue in dramatic, but also quite thorough and realistic fashion.