The Chambermaid (La Camarista) – Film Review
by Pat Viale
Director: Lila Avilés
Writers: Lila Avilés, Juan Carlos Marquéz
Stars: Gabriela Cartol, Agustina Quinci, Teresa Sánchez
Set entirely within the confines of the luxurious Hotel Presidente Intercontinental in Mexico City, Lila Avilés’s début film follows the daily routine of Eve, a 24 year old chambermaid as she cleans, tidies and caters to the often ridiculous demands of the affluent guests on the 21st floor for which she is responsible. Though the slow pace and sparse dialogue allows us to see the drudgery of the life Eve is forced to lead, the film is anything but monotonous. Avilés, in fact, creates a tension and empathy for her protagonist that remains with us long after the film ends.
What we learn about Eve’s life “outside” is gleaned only from asides: from her phone calls we know that she has a four year old son, Ruben, whom she rarely sees; she doesn’t have a shower in her home which is a two hour bus journey away; she doesn’t have a boyfriend. Gabriela Cartol’s controlled performance communicates Eve’s dreams and frustrations mainly through gesture and facial expression, without ever saying much. We can see, however, that she longs for something more in her life as she attempts to obtain a diploma with the help of classes offered by the hotel.
The red dress, too, left in the guest lost-and-found, which Eve constantly enquires about, becomes a symbol of the life she longs for, though we ask ourselves where would she ever have the occasion to wear such an expensive item. And her rapt attention as she reads Richard Bach’s “Jonathan Livingstone Seagull” lets us guess that she too longs to fly free, away from the struggle and boredom of her daily life.
Avilés’s film is a moving portrayal of a life limited by circumstances but is also a striking social commentary on the inequalities of the society in which Eve finds herself. To many of the guests she is seen as a commodity, there only to fulfil immediately their often arrogant requirements. Even the well-meaning Argentinian woman who is grateful for the help Eve gives her with her baby son shows no understanding of her situation, suggesting expensive hand creams which Eve could never afford to buy and making promises for a brighter future, which she doesn’t keep.
Avilés’s film offers a limited canvas but behind Eve’s daily grind we are introduced to a whole world of dreams, hopes and betrayals that are the fabric of her life. There is little action and few dramatic gestures in The Chambermaid, but the film has an authenticity that is rare and offers a real insight into the life portrayed. A rare gem.