×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Chambermaid’

A complement to Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” Mexican writer-director Lila Avilés’ feature debut invites audiences to share a hotel maid’s hopes and dreams.

Director:
Lila Avilés
With:
Gabriela Cartol, Teresa Sánchez. (Spanish, English dialogue)
Release Date:
Jun 28, 2019

Running time: 102 MIN.

Official Site: https://www.kinolorber.com/film/view/id/3358

Eve works as a maid at the upscale Hotel Presidente Intercontinental in Mexico City. Every room she enters is a chore — changing linens, scrubbing toilets and so on — but also a window into lives more luxurious than her own. Left alone with the affairs of the hotel’s rich guests, Eve indulges her curiosity. She doesn’t simply empty waste bins but spreads out their contents and picks through what she finds there for clues to how the other half lives. The irony, of course, is that director Lila Avilés has designed her debut feature, “The Chambermaid,” to give audiences the opposite opportunity, inviting us to step into the shoes of an invisible woman for two hours, and as such, her film is a rare and special thing.

In the real world, someone like Eve might be considered “common,” but as the protagonist of her own motion picture — imbued, by lead actress Gabriela Cartol, with the aching sense that something greater awaits — she’s extraordinarily uncommon. In that way, it’s a nice complement to Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” which similarly brought outsiders into the private space of a lower-class domestic worker, and also screened at the 2018 Toronto Film Festival, where Avilés’ relatively modest but comparably humane film debuted. Except that “Roma” seemed to judge its heroine’s worth in relation to the family she served (consider the movie’s poster, which depicts the group hug moments after Cleo saves one of her young charges from drowning), whereas “The Chambermaid” puts its protagonist at the center of a world she tends, but to which she has no access.

Minutely attuned as Avilés and co-writer Juan Carlos Marquéz are to aspects of gender, race and class, their understated yet observational screenplay focuses on this young woman’s hopes and dreams, however modest, rather than those of her employers: Eve aspires to be promoted to the 42nd floor, with its exclusive executive suites; she yearns for a red dress left behind by a guest, patiently waiting several days before the unclaimed garment can be hers; and she makes time on her breaks to reach her daughter by phone, wishing for a situation that gave her more time with family at home (an abstract place we never see).

From the opening scene, in which Eve uncovers a surprise while restoring order to a room that looks like it was ransacked by wildebeests, Avilés makes clear the everyday unpleasantness that is her job, as well as the condescending and often inhuman way the customers (many of whom don’t even speak Spanish) treat the help. Some appear to be more considerate, such as the woman who floats the idea of poaching Eve from the hotel to come work as a nanny to her child. But Eve is easily forgotten. In fact, the dull moth gray color of the chambermaids’ uniforms makes it that much easier for guests to overlook them — and we might, too, if Avilés had amplified the white characters’ perspective.

But “The Chambermaid” takes place largely behind the scenes, following Eve and her co-workers up the service elevator, into storage closets and amid the mountains of laundry in what appears to be the basement. In fact, Eve’s access to the hotel is so different from the guests’ that the film’s final shot — like watching an innocent man escape from Alcatraz — feels so thrilling simply in the way the world must at last view her as an equal among the other humans in frame. Still, Avilés approaches Eve with that same sense of dignity throughout, reminiscent of the respect Pascale Ferran showed a hotel cleaning woman in her poem-like film “Bird People.”

Although guided primarily by her imagination, the self-taught director — who experimented with several award-winning short films before undertaking her first feature — met and researched the chambermaids working at the Intercontinental during the long pre-production and rehearsal phases. For the most prominent roles, Avilés resisted the recent trend in Latin American cinema of using amateur performers, instead casting a professional actress as Eve. Even then, Cartol proves so unmannered, so utterly believable at times, one could be forgiven for assuming that Avilés had found her working at the Intercontinental (which happened with several of the minor supporting parts).

The film may feel minimalist to those accustomed to watching mighty heroes save the world and whatnot, but there’s an intricacy to all the seemingly mundane details Avilés opts to include, and a photographic instinct behind the way she composes each scene. Sitcoms and studio movies have established a comfortable assortment of angles for covering spaces like the hotel rooms and hallways where “The Chambermaid” takes place, and yet, Avilés and DP Carlos Rossini (a vital collaborator in the film’s design) render these areas somewhat alien. At times, we see them from Eve’s perspective, as in low angles that seem to decapitate other characters as she retrieves lost objects from under the bed. In other cases, she could be a creature in a posh terrarium, an amateur anthropologist snooping through strangers’ things in their absence.

There exists an unspoken contract between hotel guests and the anonymous maids who tidy their affairs: These women are expected to clean but not to cross the line, as Eve often does, albeit innocuously. Avilés was inspired by Sophie Calle’s book “L’Hôtel,” in which the artist photographed the personal effects of hotel guests without their knowledge. “The Chambermaid” is comparably intrigued by those who stay at the Intercontinental, but more importantly, it depicts the dynamic between the staff, as in Eve’s budding friendship with a co-worker named Minitoy (Teresa Sánchez), or the vaguely romantic glances exchanged with a bashful window-washer, forever separated by glass. The latter is one of the few people who actually seems to see Eve. Thanks to this incredibly patient and empathetic film, we do too — a lesson likely to transform the way we perceive an entire category of our fellow humans.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Chambermaid'

Reviewed at AFI Fest, Nov. 10, 2018. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — Platform.) Running time: 102 MIN. (Original title: “La camarista”)

Production: (Mexico) A Kino Lorber release of a Limerencia, Foprocine, Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografia, Bad Boy Billy Prod., La Panda Prods., Bambú Audiovisual production. Producers: Lila Avilés, Tatiana Graullera. Executive producers: Jana Diaz-Juhl, Pau Brunet, Axel Shalson, Carlos F. Rossini, Emiliano Altuna.

Crew: Director: Lila Avilés. Screenplay: Avilés, Juan Carlos Marquéz. Camera (color, widescreen): Carlos F. Rossini. Editor: Omar Guzmán.

With: Gabriela Cartol, Teresa Sánchez. (Spanish, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Mindy Kaling photographed by Victoria Stevens

    Mindy Kaling to Host 22nd Costume Designer Guild Awards

    Mindy Kaling announced Wednesday that she will host the 22nd Costume Designers Guild Awards. “I’m thrilled to be hosting the Costumes Designers Guild Awards. Costume design and fashion are close to my heart, and I promise many, possibly too many, outfit changes,” Kaling wrote on Instagram. View this post on Instagram Hey guys! I’m so [...]

  • FROZEN 2 - In Walt Disney

    Will 'Frozen 2' Heat Up a Frosty Box Office?

    How enduring is “Frozen” fever? Six years after audiences were first introduced to Princesses Anna and Elsa, Disney is returning to Arendelle this weekend with the big-screen debut of “Frozen 2. The original made history as the highest-grossing animated movie ever, raking in $1.2 billion worldwide in 2013. This time around, the powerful sisters are [...]

  • Nederland, Amsterdam, 09-10-2019-Orwa Nyrabia, artistic director

    IDFA Artistic Director Orwa Nyrabia on Documentary Cinema's Bright Future

    “Where do you want to start,” Orwa Nyrabia says, with a smile. “I’m in full festival mode!” Just a year into the job and Nyrabia, IDFA’s artistic director, can’t wait to get stuck into his second edition. The festival’s founder, Ally Derks, who bowed out in 2017 after 30 years at the helm, was a [...]

  • Timothee Chalamet poses for photographers at

    Timothée Chalamet to Make London Stage Debut With Eileen Atkins in '4000 Miles'

    Timothee Chalemet is set to take to the London stage for the first time, appearing next spring in Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play “4000 Miles.” Matthew Warchus will direct the production at The Old Vic, which will also star Eileen Atkins (“The Crown,” “Gosford Park”). The play opens April 2020. It turns on the story [...]

  • CJ-CGV Cinemas

    CJ CGV Sells $286 Million Stake in Asian Cinema Businesses

    CJ CGV, the Korean movie theaters giant, is to raise $286 million from the sale of a slice of its Indonesian, Vietnamese and Chinese businesses. The company, which has its own stock market listing and is affiliated to the CJ Group, which includes CJ E&M and CJ Entertainment, said this week that it had sold [...]

  • Taiwanese director Fu Yue

    China, Taiwan in Film Awards Face-off With Roosters, Horses Scheduled on Same Day

    Despite rising political antagonism, China and Taiwan have for years been able to put aside their differences for a night of shared glitz and glamour at the annual Taipei-based Golden Horse Awards, known as Asia’s Oscars. But with cross-strait relations at a nadir, that’s about to change.  Chinese-language cinema is set for a showdown the [...]

  • Julia Roberts Harriet Tubman

    Julia Roberts Was Suggested to Play Harriet Tubman, 'Harriet' Screenwriter Says

    Cynthia Erivo has received widespread acclaim for her portrayal of Harriet Tubman in Kasi Lemmons’ biopic “Harriet.” But according to the movie’s screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard, Julia Roberts — yes, white woman Julia Roberts — was once suggested by a studio executive to play the role. In a Q&A for “Harriet” studio Focus Features as [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content