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New To DVD - THE CHAMBERMAID

the chambermaid review
A young woman tends to the rooms of a sprawling Mexico City hotel.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Lila Avilés

Starring: Gabriela Cartol, Agustina Quinci, Teresa Sánchez

the chambermaid dvd



Thinking about it, unless you’re employed by the BBFC, the act of watching a film is as far from the act of work as you can get. In simple terms, being at the cinema involves sitting and watching; which is a direct contrast to the ushers actively cleaning up after you, or the kids rushing about on concessions serving slush puppies and popcorn (busy, thankless tasks). Requiring a significant chunk of time, surrender and focus, taking in a film isn’t something you can get away with on the job either, unlike, say, listening to music, which can be relegated to the background/headphones as you get on with whatever you’re doing (cf. grabbing a chapter of a book in the bogs on the skive). Take Eve (Gabriela Cartol), the titular character of Lila AvilésThe Chambermaid, who works long days/nights at a nice hotel in Mexico City. Like the rest of us, there’s no way she can knock on Sky Movies mid-shift, as she methodically turns rooms around between checks out and in. Eve’s role is to facilitate other people’s luxury within a service industry which is as competitive as it is punishing: where meeting the whims of customers is a given, because one complaint could mean the end of your employment.


the chambermaid review

Cinematic depictions of work fascinate me, and often don’t really function, as narrative cinema cannot afford to display the inherent tedium of gainful employment. The best is when teaching is represented: the bell always seems to ring mid-lesson, with Pavlovian students getting up en masse as the teacher shouts out chapters ‘to study for next time’ (and, more often than not, the lesson content will auspiciously mirror the main plot/themes of the film, too). I mean, you never see the presumed reality of teachers constantly telling students to put phones away, or helping a kid to spell a word, etc. An honourable mention should go to Clerks, which, whatever you think of it now, did have that authentic sting of drudgery, as does The Chambermaid, which painstakingly depicts the working environment of Eve. In unbroken montage, we see her clean, square, tuck, pick up, scrub in the long, hypnotic sequences which make up the body of The Chambermaid. This is the first thing which is impressive about Avilés’ film, how watchable it is. In its absolute fealty to anodyne, workaday detail, The Chambermaid mesmerises.


the chambermaid review

There is a plot of sorts - we see Eve’s urgent phone calls with loved ones, her punctual returns to lost and found to see if anyone has claimed the red dress she covets - but these narrative points slip in and out of the fascinating ambience. A particularly persistent subplot involves a young mother who prevails upon Eve to mind her baby while she showers. These episodes play out in explicit intimacy: is there anything more personal than seeing someone shower and then groom themselves into facing the day? Watching this middle-class woman fuss about her room wet and naked is a situation emblematic of Eve’s, wherein she is witness to the, sometimes gross, excesses of how people behave in private, yet not considered worthy enough to be a source of potential embarrassment. It’s as if they don’t notice her, but Avilés does. All the while, through deft cinematic sleight of hand, suspense is built, mainly via the menacing circumstances of Eve’s lot. It’s amazing what you can find in a hotel room - at one point, after cleaning the pig sty he’s left it in, Eve locates a naked customer sleeping under the bed. Another time she taciturnly scrubs the congealed blood from a bathtub in what could only be the grim residue of a suicide attempt.


the chambermaid review

This unpleasant interlude reminded me of one of Travis Bickle’s whinges in Taxi Driver, another film which essays the alienation of solitary, nocturnal work. But instead of deciding to murder someone in order to break the urban ennui, Eve just sort of gets on with it as we watch, completely gripped. In the background are the infinite panoramas of Mexico City, crucially separated from Eve by inch thick panes of glass. As a symbolic code, yes, it’s a little on the nose, as is this film about work (which occasionally is in itself hard work). But there is a magnetic weirdness at work in The Chambermaid with its beguiling balance of the personal and the withdrawn, in its unique and cool authenticity.

The Chambermaid comes to UK DVD October 14th.




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