The Chambermaid

Spotless cleaning can’t hide the class divide

A film called The Chambermaid might conjure up images of yet another drawn-out period drama, or perhaps a more edgy female assassin-type thriller. Director Lila Avilés’ first fictional film is thankfully neither of those things, and is instead a unique and thoughtful character-led drama set in a luxurious Mexico City hotel, following the day-to-day life of one of its hotel maids. The stillness of Avilés’ camera makes it feel like a documentary at times, so life-like are the characters and their routines.

It follows the work of Eve (Gabriela Cartol – who also appeared in the transcendent I Dream in Another Language) an introverted young single mother who we only see speak to her son and babysitter on the phone, and we’re never sure if she actually goes home at all. Avilés offers no sense of time for those inside this huge 42 floor corporate building and there is no way of knowing how much time has passed and how many shifts we are watching. We only see Eve sleep on one occasion and only once is a door shown that leads out of the building itself. Work is life for Eve and even though studying for her GED through a union-created programme, the suffocating nature of her job is becoming tiresome.

Eve keeps to herself and rarely raises a conversation with others until she makes friends with a high-spirited fellow worker nicknamed ‘Minitoy’ (Teresa Sánchez). She takes care of the 23rd floor but is promised by her boss she will be promoted to work on the prestigious 42nd where the penthouse suites reside. In the meantime we follow her as she goes about her tasks, cleaning up all kinds of stains and meeting the demands of VIPs who request ludicrous and unneeded amounts of hotel amenities. Not only is the work physically demanding but you realise the strength of character needed to undertake such a lonely job role.

The Chambermaid subtly highlights the divide between rich and poor for those toiling in such a vast city. The inner-workings of the hotel reveal a bureaucracy operating a carrot on a stick system, while the worker’s lives are dictated by the people who stay there. Even though one such guest Romina (Agustina Quinci) speaks to Eve as an actual human being, the separation between the two is made abundantly clear. The hotel even employs a woman whose sole job it is to press the buttons in the trade lift. Up and down she goes all day, a role she seems to believe still has its benefits.

Carlos Rossini’s sharp cinematography constantly catches glimpses of the expansive Mexico City skyline reaching out behind Eve as she works inside the hotel’s time capsule. When she is given Richard Bach’s famous novella, ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ (about a seagull bored of life and determined to learn how to fly) we slowly see her stop and take more notice of the world outside. After spending so long burying her feelings to perform robotic tasks in her thankless job, her inner-world is awoken and Avilés appears to divert into a moment of fantasy that expresses all the pent up frustration inside.  

Everything from the script to the way each scene is shot is performed with minimal fuss. It leans heavily on Cartol to make it work while surrounded by mundane and soulless locations, but there is a tenderness to her natural performance that quickly endears you to Eve’s plight. Small physical movements speak a thousand words and the longer you spend together, the more you implore her to find a sense of freedom. There are perhaps two ways you can read the conclusion to Eve’s story, although which one you choose may depend on your own personal outlook on life.

The Chambermaid opens in select UK cinemas on July 26.

Steven Sheehan

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
The Chambermaid | The Digital Fix