Though the hotel in which it is set could hardly appear more modern, there’s something about The Chambermaid’s title which suggests a more old-fashioned tale, one of hidden (near-ghostly) personal servitude. Lila Aviles’s debut film finds a satisfying balance between these two elements, looking at how the fundaments of domestic work stay the same regardless of era or place as well as finding the warm, honest human stories behind the work. Incredibly small-scale, The Chambermaid follows a few weeks in the life of maid Eve (Gabriela Cartol) as she takes care of the 21st floor of a five star hotel in Mexico City.
There are a couple of ‘traditional’ plot threads, like a tentative workplace romance with one of the window cleaners and a hunt for a promotion, but these all play out with minimal drama, Aviles never sacrificing the deep believability of Eve and all the supporting characters and their lives. Everyone has ambitions and dreams, even if they’re only minor, and the hotel truly feels like a live-in place, even as its two strata of inhabitants remain largely separate. Some guests can’t bring themselves to even exchange a word with Eve, though a young mother (Agustina Quinci) gets on with her very well after Eve helps out with a bit of childcare.
Eve’s own son we only get an idea of via her phone calls home. Aviles never leaves the hotel, so it becomes both a comforting place and a claustrophobic prison, a very effective way to bring us into Eve’s headspace. Given how measured Cartol’s performance is and that there is limited dialogue, this visual shorthand is vital. Long, static-camera takes lend an insight into the routines of the job and let scenes breathe. The Chambermaid is certainly slow, though not boring, thanks to the likable, relatable cast.
Such a thankless workplace makes fast allies of the staff, and though their exact motivations may be quite transactional, Aviles never judges them for this. Not all relationships are altruistic, and Eve gets almost as much out of her fellow maids as they do out of her. Their downtime together is gently funny, especially when Eve hangs out with the rather opaque Minitoy (Teresa Sanchez). The Chambermaid doesn’t exactly thrill, but the time spent in its world is worthwhile, offering a look into a hidden, sometimes unpleasant world without ever cheapening itself to misery or poverty exploitation.