Film Review | Seeing and Hearing in The Chambermaid
If you take anything away from The Chambermaid, let it be the effort that goes into preparing a hotel room. Duvets must be changed, pillows flattened, toilets cleaned, baths scrubbed, drawers emptied, amenities restocked, and this goes for every room in every corridor on every floor. But as with most poorly paid service jobs, no appreciation is given because none is expected. Maids should be neither seen nor heard. They should be like the elves in the cobbler’s house, disappearing quickly when the guests arrive so that the spotless room looks to be a work of magic. The guests in The Chambermaid are no different. They are people with their own concerns, in the middle of their own stories, and they have no time to consider whether or not their maid is in the middle of hers.
Eve (Gabriela Cartol) works at a luxury hotel in Mexico City. Diligent and well-behaved, she makes cleaning a room look like an art form, with each of the aforementioned activities carried out with the skill of a pro. You’ve never seen a lamp dusted so efficiently. But the work is draining and her hours are long, meaning that she rarely gets to see her four-year-old son. We, on the other hand, don’t get to see him at all as the film never takes us outside the confines of the hotel.
And confining it is. Director Lila Aviles shoots her debut feature tightly around Eve, trapping us with her in a prison of corridors, elevators and bleach-white rooms. Laid on top of these physical barriers are emotional ones. People either speak through one another or around them, making a genuine connection hard to come by. The funniest scene in the film sees a seemingly authentic conversation with a colleague turn out to be nothing but a sales pitch for the woman’s food containers.
Eve is quiet and aloof but not without ambition. She has her eye on a promotion that would have her working on the 42nd floor, a swanky spot with amazing views that makes her current floor (the 21st, half of 42. Hmm…) look like a hostel by comparison. She also longs for the beautiful and unashamedly symbolic red dress that had been left into the hotel’s lost and found. Eve is instinctively drawn to the things her guests leave behind, sifting through their wrappers and other rubbish and collecting them like treasures. Coupled with this natural curiosity is a love of learning, expressed in her bashful interest in books and explored through the hotel’s adult education program.
Slow-burning but packed with detail, The Chambermaid is a quiet observation of a character drawn with subtlety and compassion. The camerawork is unobtrusive, painting Eve’s tedious and exhausting life in the hotel as sincerely as possible. Shallow focus frequently separates Eve from her environment, an effect that becomes more pronounced to match Eve’s growing assertiveness and disillusionment with her role. By the time her boss tells her to “smile and get back to work”, we know that this isn’t who Eve is anymore. Her confidence has been awakened. The maid is no longer content with being neither seen nor heard.