Last year Alfonso Cuarón’ gave us a glimpse of Mexico City’s past with “Roma” centered around a live-in maid named Cleo. This year Lila Avilés brings us into the present with a story about a single mom named Eve (Gabriela Cartol), who works as a chambermaid at Mexico City’s luxurious Hotel Presidente Intercontinental.
The contrast between the socioeconomic classes is observed as the guests and hotel employees interact and “The Chambermaid” becomes a testament to the dedication of the service industry. We watch as the humble Eve does her best to make ends meet while catering to the sometimes-outlandish whims of the pampered guests.
Gabriela Cartol delivers an exquisite performance as the chambermaid with a flawless record in charge of the 23rd floor. Eve hopes her hard work and dedication will lead to a promotion to oversee the soon to open Penthouse suites on the 42nd floor of the cosmopolitan hotel located in the exclusive Polanco district.
The film opens with Eve accessing the situation of a filthy room. As she jumps into action gathering the dirty dishes, picking up the trash, scrubbing the bathroom, she discovers a half-naked elderly man on the floor next to the bed. He awakens to find her standing over him. Eve asks, “Do you need help?” and “Are you okay?” before he nods his head in frustration while motioning her away with his hand. It can be a thankless job for sure, but Eve apologizes and moves along.
In another scene Eve is called to a room where she finds a mother who just finished nursing her newborn. She asks Eve to stay and watch the baby while she showers but when Eve responds “I am very busy right now” the woman replies “I know but it will take just two minutes and you can watch T.V.” As the hotel guest jumps in the shower Eve embraces the child which is a quick substitute for her four-year-old son that she barely sees due to the long hours spent working at the hotel. The lady rambles on about needing a life of her own and being forced to lie in bed all day with her baby, it’s a life beyond comprehension for Eve.
Teresa Sánchez plays Eve’s rambunctious coworker Minitoy who befriends her at an early morning class at the hotel where the two are working towards getting their GED. Eve gets up at 4am to make it to class since she lives two hours away from her job. She also showers at the hotel after her shift before heading to a home with no running water. Eve’s job is physically demanding but there must be a high level of mental anguish involved after serving the affluent all day in a 5-star hotel and then returning to a small home with no gas or water.
There are small moments that bring pleasure to Eve’s life such as relaxing in one of the hotel’s beautiful rooms with its sprawling view of Mexico City as she reads “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” or the hope that a beautiful red dress left behind by a guest will become hers since it remains unclaimed in the hotel’s Lost and Found department. Then there’s the flirtatious window washer who draws soapy hearts in the hope of getting her attention. In a revealing moment late in the film, Cartol exposes a different side of her character that confirms she’s just like most of us who want to be loved.
Avilés was inspired to make the film by Sophie Calle’s book “The Hotel,” a voyeuristic look at the lives of people who checked into a Venice, Italy hotel where Calle posed as a chambermaid. She took photographs of the guest’s personal belongings in rooms she was assigned to clean. The film started as a theater piece by Avilés who studied the Performing Arts and Direction with Mexico’s leading theatrical figures Martin Acosta, Sandra Felix, and Juliana Faesler. After working for many years as a stage actress, Avilés shifted to directing which led to her debut feature film “The Chambermaid.”
This behind the scenes look at the service industry serves as a testament to Mexico’s working class, many of whom were used as extras for the film. Gabriela Cartol’s subtle performance, Carlos F. Rossini’s keen cinematography, and the sensitive script by Avilés and Juan Carlos Marquéz make “The Chambermaid” a pleasurable experience that will forever change your perception of those assiduous servants working in Housekeeping.
(3 ½ stars)
Now playing in select theaters. The film will be screened at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on August 17 and 18.