Photo: Kino Lorber
Before We Vanish by Christopher Bourne Film

The Chambermaid | Lila Aviles

July 8, 2019

The Chambermaid, the first feature from actress-turned-theater-director-turned filmmaker Lila Aviles, centers on Eve (Gabriela Cartol), a luxury hotel cleaning lady working in Mexico City. Part of that précis may sound familiar. But similarities mostly end there: While Roma’s central figure was an idealized, saintly figure with a hazy backstory — viewed through a lens of monochrome nostalgia — The Chambermaid, set in the Mexico City of present day, views its main character with a much more observant, documentary-like style. And while Alfonso Cuaron drew upon childhood memories for his film, Aviles prepared for hers by spending several years following actual hotel cleaning ladies, an experience she parlayed into a stage play, La Camarera. Aviles also drew inspiration from artist Sophie Calle’s Hotel, an account of that author’s experiences working as a hotel maid.

All this adds up to an evident emphasis on detail in The Chambermaid, which serves the film’s deceptively minimalist, elegantly shot style. Mundane tasks are prominently emphasized: changing sheets, scrubbing toilets and tubs, vacuuming floors. And because the maids are supposed to be unobtrusive, near invisible, Eve habitually apologizes each time she enters a guest’s occupied room. Eve is confined to these rooms, only glimpsing the outside world through the large windows showing mountain vistas in the distance. Another contrast with Cuaron’s film: Aviles gives her material a more potent political edge, as Eve’s attempts to improve her circumstances are thwarted by higher powers (her GED class is shut down by the union and she’s denied a promotion to work the VIP penthouse suite). This lack of reward for following the rules — and her sacrificing of long hours that could’ve been spent with her young son — occasions the one expression of anger that the calm, implacable Eve allows herself. But when one is as marginalized and invisible as Eve is, raging against the machine does nothing to keep it from running.

Published as part of June 2019’s Before We Vanish.