AMERICAS AND THE CARIBBEAN

The Chambermaid (La Camarista), released in 2019, came up as a special offer, “film of the day” rental on the excellent Curzon home cinema app (a recent discovery), and I decided to give it a watch.

My original plan had been to watch Roma (2018) as my Mexican film. With its focus on the life of a housekeeper, Roma seems to cover similar territory as The Chambermaid, which follows the day to day travails and dreams of a young hotel maid, Eve (Evelia). However, Roma‘s slightly earlier release date means that The Chambermaid was perhaps a little overshadowed by the hype that surrounded Roma‘s distribution principally via Netflix (it was shown in only a tiny number of cinemas) and the subsequent Oscar buzz. In keeping with the tone of the film, it felt like time to root for the underdog. I was also drawn to The Chambermaid by the fact that it was directed (and co-written) by a woman, Lila Avilés, who now has the unsought honour of appearing as the first female director on this blog. In 2019 female directors remain a rarity.

The film’s action follows Eve (played with enigmatic restraint by Gabriela Cartol) as she works in a luxury hotel in Mexico City, populated primarily by international guests. Eve has been allocated the rooms on the 21st floor. She is doing well: the higher the floor level, the greater the prestige, but Eve aspires to working on the sumptuous 42nd floor, the luxury penthouse level.

Eve’s role is one of quiet understatement and we follow her largely as if watching a fly on the wall documentary. The film is shot as if a hidden camera is trained on Eve as she goes about her day, and we see what she sees, building up a strong sense of the monotony of her days, her invisibility to the patrons, and her tentative desires and ambitions.

The film takes place within the insulated blankness of the hotel. We can see panoramic views of the city from the hotel windows, but Eve is hermetically sealed within them, as if contained in one of the air-tight Tupperware tubs another staff member keeps trying to flog to her.

Eve is 24, with a four-year-old son who she seems to barely see. Instead she finds herself blankly rocking the baby son of a bored guest who seems sickeningly spoilt in comparison, and who slips Eve a bit of cash to watch the baby so that she can take some time to herself; later, she insincerely offers Eve a job with the family back in Argentina, then checks out without a goodbye.

Meanwhile, a boorish, overweight man acknowledges Eva only to demand more toiletries and loo rolls to add to his ludicrously over-stocked bathroom shelves, gazing vacantly at the TV screen as she busies herself around him, or intoning a self-important voiceover to his laptop over a nature documentary (“An equal number of males and females are born into the pack … it’s survival of the fittest”). Is he actually a voiceover guy, or just a bit … weird?

The Chambermaid is a slow film, tenderly shot, and not without humour, which casts a light on the realities of a side of human life that most tourists prefer to turn away from.

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