Quiet Drama ‘The Chambermaid’ Tells the Story of a Mexico City Hotel Worker
An unsung heroine in the hospitality industry finally gets her chance to be front and center in “The Chambermaid.” This quiet Mexican drama follows Eve (Gabriela Cartol), a 24-year-old single mother who works as a maid in a high-end Mexico City hotel. Although most of the guests don’t give her a second glance, Eve is privy to the intimate details of their lives, and while she rummages through garbage cans and makes up beds, the viewer gets a voyeuristic look at this special young woman.
“The Chambermaid” is the feature debut of Lila Avilés, an actress and filmmaker with an extensive theater background. The film is based on her play “La Camarera.“ Avilés explained to Entertainment Voice how she found inspiration in French writer and photographer Sophie Calle’s “The Hotel,” an art book featuring revealing photos Calle took while posing as a chambermaid in Venice.
“She took photos of the belongings and of the absence of the guests. For me, it was really interesting,” said Avilés, who went on to take photos of her own. “That made me want to do a play, and I wanted to do it in a real hotel. In the real hotel, I was like, ‘Ahh, I want to a movie!’ [Laughs] When I started to do [in-depth] research on chambermaids in Mexico, I fell so in love with them.”
Set roughly in the same world as “Roma,” “The Chambermaid” has drawn comparisons to that film, but there are key differences. The biggest one is that the action in this modern-day film takes place entirely in the hotel. While the former film gives the viewer gets a full view of just about every aspect of the protagonist’s existence, here, limited information is given about Eve’s personal life. What we know about her primarily comes from phone conversations Maguitos, the unseen person who cares for her four-year-old son while she works. Any other exposition comes from Eve’s conversations with others in the hotel, and as she is an introvert, that isn’t a lot.
This lack of dialogue means Cartol had her work cut out for her in these minimalist scenes, and she rises to the occasion, conveying much with her facial expressions and movements. Slowly, Eve evolves and comes out of her shell, due in no small part to the GED class she takes in the early mornings, a program offered to hotel employees. There, she meets Minitoy (Teresa Sánchez), a gregarious fellow housekeeper who gets her out of her comfort zone, and through this relationship she learns some valuable lessons.
Avilés does an excellent job here of prioritizing realism while maintaining a hopeful feel. At times, the viewer (the American one, at least) cannot help but think of “Maid in Manhattan,” the quintessential 2002 Jennifer Lopez rom-com about a an Hispanic hotel worker with big dreams. Like Lopez’s character, Eve has aspirations and shows motivation. Her goal is to be promoted to the 42nd floor, a place reserved for the most high-end guests, a position that comes with a much-needed raise. And while she doesn’t get a full makeover, she has dreams of taking home a beautiful red dress that was left in the lost and found, a garment that becomes a symbol of a better life.
And while there may not be a millionaire standing by to romance her, Eve does enjoy a flirtation with a window washer. At first, it seems that she is oblivious to this amorous character, but she surprises him (and the viewer) in a titillating scene, one that is inspiring in a way, as it shows how much Eve has grown; she’s now able to grab happiness wherever she can find it.
Avilés offers a fresh take on the rich and handsome stranger trope with the alluring Romina (Agustina Quinci), a glamorous and effusive Argentenian guest. A new mom, she pays Eve to come to her room at a set time everyday in order to watch her baby son while she showers. Romina chats with Eve as if she were an old girlfriend, and while Eve never fully lets her guard down, she’s not completely immune to the charm of the wealthy woman, who compliments her beauty and even suggests taking her back with her to Buenos Aires.
Avilés, who co-wrote the screenplay with Juan Carlos Marquéz, discussed the challenges she faced while making her first feature. “We filmed in 17 days. We had a really short pre-production. I had for seven years the movie in my head, but doing it was really fast. I didn’t have money to finalize it, so we needed to make a rough assembly so we could [enter it in film festivals].” Fortunately, Avilés was eventually able to secure funding through financiers and grants that allowed her to complete the film.
“It’s hard to answer that,” said Avilés when asked what she hopes the viewer takes away from her film. “Of course, everyone wants to say that they like it, but for me as a cinematographer, I love cinema because something is moving. I love that cinema has something to do with the moment you are [alive] and that something changes. Something profound, no matter what, changes. For me, that’s important.”
“The Chambermaid” opens June 28 in New York, July 5 in Los Angeles and San Francisco.