THURSDAY 13 FEBRUARY
Doors: 7.30pm Film: 8pm
Lila Avilés’s terrifically assured first feature finds magic in the routines of a young hotel worker. Eve (Gabriela Cartol) is a maid in a luxurious Mexico city hotel working on the 21st floor, but dreaming of promotion to the glamour and additional pay and perks of the VIP floor, the 42nd.
Diligent and conscientious, she amuses herself by sifting through guests’ possessions to get insights into their lives. When she has interactions with guests, some are weird, some funny, some infuriating. Cartol gives a wonderful performance, filled with humour and poignancy in this superbly atmospheric film.
The Financial Times
There is a hallowed Mexican saying, or there should be: “The cámara never lies.” Think about it. A cámara (room in Spanish) reveals every imaginable truth about its occupant. Sherlock Holmes would have cases wrapped in seconds if he had unlimited access to suspicious persons’ hotel rooms before, during or after a crime. Tell-tale possessions; discarded clothes: bathrooms fertile with evidence; sheets tainted with passion or pristine with celibacy.
In The Chambermaid Gabriela Cartol plays the title role, a camarista in a posh Mexico City hotel. As 24-year-old Evelia she has a fraught and luminous impassivity worthy of Yalitza Aparicio’s heroine-maid in Roma. Her pale skin, plump, puppyish features and shyly downcast eyes make her a marked woman. People hit on her; befriend her; exploit her. She tries to remain her own person, a good and gentle worker in Purgatory Towers. (Let’s give that name to the InterContinental Presidente, here in fictive guise.)
Evelia only wants two things. That red dress languishing in the hotel’s lost property office. And a modest pay increase — promotion to the VIP 42nd floor would be nice — so she can pay the rent and bring up the four-year-old son she calls each day.
It’s a fabulous piece of cinema. Lila Avilés, director and co-writer (with Juan Marquéz), creates a symphony of textured silences. A dropped pin, in some scenes, would create a terremoto. And the less people say the more they convey. Their tight-lipped souls contain desperation, need, loneliness, the thirst for self-improvement — Evelia attends in-house classes till the union axes them — and those protean longings for love we all know and share.
Evelia fancies the window cleaner, whose gaze from his harness she first shuts out with a room’s electric blinds. Later she lowers the blinds halfway, then does a little striptease.
A hotel is a goldfish bowl, partitioned in two. Every goldfish looks at every other goldfish, especially the servant goldfish gawping at the world of the master goldfish. A rich woman asks Evelia to watch her baby while she showers; later for slightly longer absences. It’s like the motherhood Evelia never had: cleanliness, luxury, a privileged, dispassionate adoration.
The movie ends with a heartbreak, though even this is only hinted. Evelia is betrayed by a colleague she liked and trusted. Or is she? Perhaps it is just part of this bewildering world, at once perfidious and transparent, where survival is a blameless cycle of trying to reach the next level, rough-hew how we will our better selves or our better friends. ★★★★★
Director: Lila Avilés
Writer: Lila Avilés, Juan Márquez
Cinematographer: Carlos Rossini
Starring: Gabriela Cartol, Agustina Quinci, Teresa Sánchez
Running time: 102 mins
Rotten Tomatoes - Critics 100% Audience 67%
The Guardian - ★★★★
The Telegraph - ★★★★★
The Independent - ★★★★
The Times - ★★★★★