the chambermaid…

I went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Lila Avilés’s film “The Chambermaid”, following the behind-closed-doors life of Eve - a hard-working, conscientious chambermaid (played by Gabriela Cartol) who works long hours in a luxury hotel in Mexico City.
We get a glimpse of the lifestyles of some its patrons (including the mess and debris left behind by some of them). We get to see the rigid discipline and sheer graft of the maids, and others, who are responsible for transforming rooms to their original splendour (on time, of course)… and to whom customers will beckon at the drop of a hat.
Eve works long hours for relatively little pay. She has a 4 year-old son who is looked after by a neighbour. On the occasions when she can return home at the end of her shift, she has to be up at 4am in order to be able to start work again at 6am. Life is very hard.

The hotel appreciates her hard work and focussed discipline (well, in theory anyway). She has complete responsibility for 21st floor, but her real goal is to be ‘given’ the penthouse suites on the 42nd floor… and the hotel management is only too keen to tell her that this will come her way quite soon (probably). Well, she soon discovers that it’s not necessarily the most hard-working who get noticed for advancement.
Eve takes huge pride in doing her job well but, inevitably, the message that comes through is all about servant/master relationships; about the haves and the have-nots; about privilege and exploitation; and about the distain/lack of respect that many of the hotel’s guests have for the lowly staff that help maintain the hotel’s high standards. There are various 'side-shows' such as a VIP who collects/hoards toiletries; an Orthodox Jew who insists that Eve pushes the lift buttons for him on the Sabbath; and an Argentinian woman who urges Eve to look after her baby while she showers (and offers vague promises of working for her full time... on better money).

In some ways, it’s quite a claustrophobic film as all the ‘action’ (of which there’s very little apart from making beds, cleaning bathrooms and replenishing toiletries!) takes place within the hotel itself… and this is, not surprisingly, limited to bedrooms, laundries and maintenance areas (certainly not the plush splendour of the reception area, restaurants and lounges). It also feels as though the film is providing a snapshot of five-star hotel life behind the scenes and that it would be possible to take another snapshot next year (and subsequent years)… and it would all look just the same. The days are monotonous and indistinguishable. As depressing as this is, there’s no shortage of people willing to replace any of the workers who might want to throw in the towel (as it were).
It’s a compelling, humbling and somewhat haunting film. Definitely worth seeing – unless you’re specifically looking for a ‘feel-good’ film! It'll definitely make you leave your hotel bedroom in a reasonable state in future (as if you ever wouldn't)!

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