Superb, empathetic study of an invisible workforce
- The Chambermaid review by PD
This highly original film, director Lila Avilés' first, is a real gem. It invites us to share the life of this invisible woman, during which time we become ever more painfully aware of the world she tends but to which she has no access. Minutely attuned as Avilés and co-writer Juan Carlos Marquéz are to aspects of gender, race and class, their understated yet highly observational screenplay focuses on this young woman’s daily struggle and her desperate (and ultra-modest) hopes and dreams rather than the lives of her employers. From the opening scene, in which Eve uncovers a surprise while restoring order to a room that looks like it was ransacked by a herd of bulls, Avilés depicts with great skill the everyday unpleasantness that is her job, as well as the frequently condescending and often downright inhuman way the customers treat the 'help'. Some seem more considerate than others, but Eve is invariably forgotten in an instant.
Cleverly, the film takes place largely behind the scenes, following Eve and her co-workers up the service lift, into storage closets and amid the mountains of laundry in what appears to be the basement. Crucially, however, Avilés gives Eve a great sense of dignity throughout, ultimately giving her a heroic quality (as opposed to her complacent and spoilt class 'superiors'). The film is pitch-perfect at revealing the unspoken contract between the hotel guests and the anonymous maids who perform all manner of services for them ( for of course, these women are expected to clean up but never to cross the line), but more importantly, it also explores the dynamic between the staff, as in Eve’s budding friendship with co-worker Minitoy (Teresa Sánchez), one of the few people who actually seems to 'see' Eve.
The self-taught director apparently met and researched the maids working at the Intercontinental Hotel during pre-production and rehearsal phases, and this certainly shows. Indeed, Gabriela Cartol 's performance proves so unmannered, so utterly believable throughout, one could be forgiven for assuming that Avilés had found her working at the hotel. The film may feel overly minimalist to those accustomed to a more conventional narrative / action, but there’s an intricacy to all the seemingly mundane details Avilés opts to include, and a photographic instinct behind the way she composes each scene. Sitcoms and studio films have established a comfortable assortment of angles for covering spaces such as hotel rooms and hallways and whatnot, but Avilés render these areas as alien, sci-fi like spaces, particularly when we see them from Eve’s perspective, as in low angles that seem to decapitate other characters as for example when she retrieves lost objects from under the bed. Equally as importantly, Avilés never overplays her hand whilst making it crystal clear that Eve’s aspirations are tragically defined and diminished by the kind of moneyed guests she waits upon, and the final moment of the film, beautifully simple as it is, has a subtle power worthy of the great directors. As a result of this deeply empathetic piece, we are likely never to look at this invisible workforce in quite the same way again. Superb stuff.
5 out of 5 members found this review helpful.
Magnificent debut film
- The Chambermaid review by TE
The review by PD expresses the key elements of this engaging but ultimately sad film.
The sterile environment of the hotel is the dominant force at every stage. Eva's core of humanity is expressed only in occasional moments: the electric shock administered by Minitoy; the daring scene where she strips for a transfixed maintenance worker; and the outburst of rage when she is told that she has not got the job she has worked so hard for.
The most telling moment is when she realises that the mother and baby she has been helping have left the hotel without telling her. She furtively pockets a bib that she finds under the bed, a tragic symbol of her enforced disconnection from her own child.
This is apparently the director's first full length feature film. Can't wait for her future work!
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.