The Chambermaid (La camarista)


Reflections of the invisible ones who clean our hotel rooms.

(2018) Drama (Kino LorberGabriela Cartol, Teresa Sanchez, Agustina Quinci. Directed by Lila Avilės

 

There is something about staying in a hotel that makes one feel a bit pampered; we don’t have to clean up after ourselves, the beds are magically made while we are out and everything seems softer and more luxurious than what we are used to at home. That’s not true for every hotel, of course, but certainly when it comes to the high-end luxury hotels, it’s true.

Eve (Cartol) works as a chambermaid in an unnamed five-star luxury hotel in Mexico City She has exclusive care of the 21st floor, supplying amenities, replacing towels, tidying up and of course making the beds. She is good at her job, well-versed in how to clean a room quickly and unobtrusively. Her manager tells her that she has a shot at getting the 42nd floor, a job that would give her more perks and a wealthier clientele.

She moves in and out of the rooms like a ghost, vanishing when hotel guests come near. She has little interaction with them other than to serve their needs; to bring extra amenities when called for, to press an elevator button for a guest whose religion won’t allow him to, even caring for an infant while the mother takes a shower.

Aviles, a first-time feature director, based the film on a stage play (which was in turn inspired by a photographic exhibition) but to her credit despite the claustrophobic setting (the movie is set entirely within the environs of the hotel from the guest rooms to the service areas where laundry is dropped off, amenities are stored and employee lunches are eaten. We get little sense of who Eve is personally; little dribs and drabs of information come out. She has a four-year-old son that she leaves in the care of a neighbor while she works. She comes to work early to attend an adult education class to help her get her high school equivalency.

She also carries on a wordless flirtation with a window washer who peers in from the outside like a voyeur. she strips naked for him in one unexpectedly poignant scene, almost as if she’s declaring that she’s not  invisible, crying out that she’s a person, a woman and demands to be given the regard due her. We are led to suspect that Eve isn’t satisfied with her lot in life despite her outward demeanor; there are chinks in the armor, so to speak.

Cartol does a fine job portraying Eve, whose work ethic is beyond reproach but whose job requires her to be little more than a smiling helpful robot to the outside world. There are no great emotional revelations in the film, nothing that pierces the quiet nature of the film which is mostly the whispering of sheets being put on beds and the soft thud of pillows being plumped. When boisterous co-workers, led by Eve’s lone friend Minitoy (Sanchez) chatter loudly while playing with a fidget spinner, it’s almost an affront to our ears.

This is a movie that requires a fair amount of patience; there’s an awful lot of bed-making here and the scrubbing of bathroom appliances and this might well be the film’s Achilles heel; there’s not a lot of ways that you can make that kind of repetitive task interesting for an hour and a half.. Younger, more OCD audiences may have a hard time focusing on the film which is a bit of a shame; it releases tantalizing glimpses of who Eve is but you have to be paying attention and not everyone has the capacity to do that these days. People who tend to watch movies with a smart phone at the ready should probably give this a miss.

That leaves those cinephiles who yearn to look in on lives that are not their own, to see how other people live, to share in their lives for just an hour or two and to gain some insight into the human condition and maybe, even their own condition. This is a remarkable film currently playing this week at Miami’s Tower Theater on the Miami Dade College campus; it won’t be long before it’s available on streaming or VOD however and once it becomes available, I strongly urge cinephiles to seek this out. It’s a hidden gem, not unlike finding an amazing chocolate mint on your pillow at bedtime.

REASONS TO SEE: Takes a very minimalist, almost documentarian approach that works really well with the subject matter.
REASONS TO AVOID: At times seems to dwell too much on the drudgery.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie world premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/9/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: ROMA
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Blink of an Eye

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