The concept of time becomes infinite in La Camarista (The Chambermaid), an intimate drama that offers a behind-the-scenes look into the daily grind of an everyday housekeeper working in a posh high-rise hotel in Mexico City. Director and co-writer Lila Avilés‘ feature film debut captures what it’s like to perform the tedious work of a maid through the eyes of Evelia (Gabriela Cartol), a 24-year-old single mother who quietly aspires to do more with her life than scrub toilets and change bedsheets. If, however, that is her calling, she’d like to climb the housekeeper hierarchy on her own terms.
Evelia is taking advantage of the GED classes the hotel offers its staff. She pins her hopes on getting transferred to the coveted, newly remodeled 42nd floor, where her status as an employee will increase substantially. Her aspirations are realistic, especially since her work ethic is impeccable. The impression is that she is cleaning rooms nonstop. Avilés and first-time co-writer Juan Carlos Marquéz pen a mostly isolated existence for Evelia — one where a single shift in the confines of the hotel feels like an eternity. In fact, viewers are never taken beyond the hotel’s entrance in The Chambermaid, although we know she has a four-year-old son named Ruben who she talks to on the phone during breaks. Instead, we watch Evelia dust lampshades, deliver extra towels to guests and fluff pillows with no end in sight. When one day ends and the next day begins is anyone’s guess.
Luckily, the monotony is interrupted by small surprises every once in a while. For example, Evelia is called into a room to assist a young mother by watching her infant, so she can take a shower. In another scene, she is stopped by a Jewish guest at the elevator and is asked to help him get to the lobby by pushing the elevator buttons since it’s Sabbath. One of Evelia’s co-workers, the outgoing Minitoy (Teresa Sánchez), also provides her a way to escape the job’s endless repetition with her infectious charm and her attempts to get Evelia to abandon her introverted personality. In an ongoing storyline, Evelia checks in with management to see if anyone has claimed a fancy red dress a guest left behind. If a certain amount of time passes, she’ll be able to keep it, which gives her something else to look forward to each day.
Nominated for eight Ariel Awards (Mexico’s equivalent to the Oscars), The Chambermaid, which made its world premiere last year at the Toronto Film Festival, picked up one win for Avilés (Best First Work). It, however, predictably lost out to Alfonso Cuarón’s powerhouse drama Roma in most of the same categories. While both films share connective tissue, since both shadow maids, they are completely different films. The Chambermaid focuses more on the environment Evelia finds herself working in and how she is able to balance her responsibilities without becoming overwhelmed or jaded. Both films, however, show audiences why labor-intensive occupations, such as housekeeping, should never be looked upon as inferior.
Rising above the constant rumble of the hotel’s industrial washing machines is Evelia’s spirit. The Chambermaid is a story of idealism centered on a character who is stuck in perpetual limbo. She is a woman many can relate to since everyone — at some point in their lives — has probably experienced a work day or week or year that seemed to last forever. It’s easy to root for someone like Evelia because deep down, we sense that if she can survive the demanding nature of her work, we can, too.
The Chambermaid opens June 26 at Film Forum in New York, on July 5 at Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles and the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, followed by a national rollout.
It is Mexico’s submission for the Best International Film category at the 92nd Academy Awards.