THE CHAMBERMAID LA CAMARISTA, drama, 102 minutes, not rated, in Spanish with subtitles, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 2.5 chiles
Life on the lower levels of the service sector can be soul-killing drudgery, and with her debut foray into feature films, Mexican director Lila Avilés takes us backstage at Mexico City’s luxurious Hotel Presidente Internacional, following the day-to-day duties of that invisible, lowly creature, the chambermaid.
It’s not much more exciting than it sounds. But, as she forges her (mostly) uncomplaining way through a day of making beds, emptying wastebaskets (and sifting through the detritus for treasures), cleaning toilets, and catering to the whims of guests, Eve (Gabriela Cartol) builds a beautifully understated and sympathetic portrait of the chores and expectations of a hotel maid.
The job’s not all routine. In an opening scene, which seems to promise an entirely different kind of movie, Eve discovers what appears to be a dead body half-hidden under an unmade bed. It turns out to be an old geezer who fell out of bed and went back to sleep.
That’s the high point for excitement until we come to a scene late in the movie where Eve, in a rare moment of individual self-assertion, performs a startlingly erotic striptease for a window washer safely suspended on the far side of the glass 21 stories up.
In a curious note, Eve travels up and down in a service elevator, run by an elevator operator who always has her nose in a book. The hotel guests seem to have to press their own buttons, as we discover when an Orthodox Jew asks Eve to operate the guest elevator for him on the Sabbath.
Eve is the single mother of a small child we seldom see, whom she leaves with a friend. She has a two-hour commute, and she doesn’t always make it home at the end of the day. She’s determined to make something of herself and enrolls in an early-morning union-sponsored class to try to earn a high school equivalency degree. There she meets Minitoy (Teresa Sánchez), an ebullient co-worker who injects a welcome splash of energy into the mix.
Eve’s goal is a promotion to the 42nd floor, where the high rollers stay, and where presumably the tips are lavish. She works hard, keeps her head down, and earns the approval of her superiors, who assure her she’ll get the call. Her other coveted dream is a red dress, left behind by a hotel guest, which Eve turned in to the lost and found.
Avilés befriended hotel maids and spent time with them to get a perspective on their lives, and she has produced a slow-moving, plotless but sensitive look at the problems and prospects of their lot. If you see this movie, you may remember it next time you’re leaving a tip as you check out of that nice hotel.