Starring: Gabriela Cartol, Agustina Quinci, Teresa Sánchez
Director: Lila Avilés
Running Time: 102 mins
The Chambermaid (La camarista) is a Mexican film about the life and work of a young woman working as a chambermaid in a luxury hotel in Mexico City.
It’s easy to look at a film like The Chambermaid and praise it for being down to earth, patient and intimate. Of course, all of those are clear positives for the film, and make it a captivating watch throughout, but what really makes it tick is a grittier, darker subtext that sees Eve, the chambermaid herself, find herself increasingly frustrated with her lot in life.
Throughout, we see a kind-hearted and timid Eve quietly and diligently go about her work cleaning hotel rooms, helping out clients and interact briefly with her colleagues. However, as she begins to change and open up over the course of a few days, some things in her life become brighter, while others see a disappointing downward turn.
And it’s that disappointing downward turn that really makes The Chambermaid a memorable watch. There’s no denying the film’s value as an intimate and down-to-earth look at the working life of a young woman doing her best wherever she can, but it’s those moments where the film breaks out of its quieter, more patient style that really impress.
While Eve’s hard-working and warm-hearted attitude win her praise at work, her hopes never quite seem to be fulfilled, from the small, trivial day-to-day things to major parts of her life. Of course, she soldiers on hoping for more, working as well as she can, but there comes a point where she begins to recognise that there might not be a light at the end of the tunnel for her, no matter what she does.
It’s not a particularly uplifting or empowering message, but the pragmatic way The Chambermaid faces up to a truly devastating reality is its most powerful suit, featuring bittersweet emotion that contrasts the ups and downs of Eve’s life, but most of all a sobering realisation that so many good, genuine and kind people in the world just don’t get the recognition or success that they deserve and want.
So, no matter how wonderfully endearing Eve is – thanks significantly to a wonderful and brilliantly layered performance by Gabriela Cartol – I left The Chambermaid with a somewhat of a heavy heart. There’s no melodramatic display of sadness – the benefits of a film with such a down-to-earth attitude – but the build-up of tension and frustration is what really helps the core message to hit home so hard.
That central theme makes for gripping viewing throughout, and Cartol’s lead performance only furthers the depth of your connection with Eve, but there are still some things about The Chambermaid that don’t quite work in such impressive fashion.
It’s an engrossing film from beginning to end, and the rather claustrophobic portrayal of Eve’s workplace (we almost never leave the confines of the hotel) makes the key themes all the more powerful, but the film isn’t quite as stylistically impressive as it is on a deeper, human level.
Of course, as a more down-to-earth film, The Chambermaid shouldn’t try to be over the top with its style, but its patient and quiet slice-of-life style that we see so often in modern independent dramas (Two Days, One Night, All Good, The Unknown Girl and many, many more) doesn’t quite fit the bill, as I found myself wanting more in-depth character and social analysis than to simply watch the film as more of an observation of Eve’s working life.
The parallels with Alfonso Cuarón’s brilliant Roma are clear, as The Chambermaid also looks at the life of an earnest and kind but perhaps underappreciated young woman. However, where Roma impresses with its gorgeous cinematography and powerfully moving nostalgia, The Chambermaid feels a lot blander.
Its grittier vibes are part of the reason for that, and where Roma sees Yalitza Aparicio’s character in a more positive light, The Chambermaid sees its main character more frustrated with her lot in life, but over the course fo the film, I felt a little more boldness from director Lila Avilés could have gone a long way, and brought more emotional power to Eve’s gripping story.
Overall, I liked The Chambermaid. A captivating and impressive story that’s not afraid to face up to some harsh realities, it’s an excellent drama throughout, furthered by a brilliant lead performance. However, in comparison to a number of films with similar themes and ideas, it can come off as a little underwhelming both on an emotional and above all stylistic level, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.