Saturday, June 22, 2019

Lila Avilés' pitch-perfect THE CHAMBERMAID gives Oscar-winner Roma a run for its money

It's not simply that both films are from Mexico, nor that their leading ladies seem to have an awfully lot in common, nor that Alfonso Cuarón's Roma and Lila Avilés' THE CHAMBERMAID tackle class, race, and the dominant culture so very well. It's all this and more. Specifically, both movies offer up the plight of maids/caretakers in Mexico. Though Roma's works for a somewhat wealthy bourgeois family several decades in the past, while Ms Avilés' labors in a present-day, high-class hotel, not a whole lot appears to have changed for the country's indigenous underclass. Even more astonishing, The Chambermaid proves Roma's artistic equal in many ways.

Granted, we don't have that gorgeous black-and-white cinematography to salivate over, but the excellent color work by Carlos Rossini brings a crisp documentary-like sheen to all we see -- from the mammoth laundry room and maintenance quarters to the exquisitely designed hotel rooms that would seem to have genuinely earned this establishment its five stars.

Even more surprising is the fact that Ms Avilés, shown at right, who both directed and co-wrote (with Juan Carlos Marquéz) has kept us viewers in a single location through her entire film. Yet so full of fascinating life and detail are the (very long) days our heroine must put in at her place of employment that each scene we observe holds us enthralled.

When, at last, in the film's final shot, we see the street outside, TrustMovies was suddenly jolted into the awareness that he'd been kept inside the hotel for the entire duration. And he had not minded at all. This is thanks in equal measure to Avilés, her crack technical staff, and especially her exceptional leading lady, the wonderful Gabriela Cartol, shown above and below. Ms Cartol may initially appear, as her character Evelia, rather mousy and unprepossessing, but by the finale, I suspect you will find her, as did I, beautiful, intelligent, enterprising, sexy and as full of life as you could ever want any woman to be.

Along the way, we discover many different aspects of Evelia's existence -- how she works (and what a very good worker she is), her life outside the hotel (even though we only hear and/or hear about this), her co-workers, and even to an extent (in a very surprising scene) her "love" life. We get a feeling for how things "work" at this hotel -- politically and otherwise -- even we meet a few of the hotel's guests. And, yes, they're just as wealthy and entitled as you might imagine. But they're also not -- some of them, at least -- total creeps.

There's a GED class on premises, too, as well as a possible promotion in store for our girl, and maybe even a lovely red dress she has found and placed "dibs" on, should it not be claimed by the guest who left it. There's a child (the infant of a guest) for whom she is suddenly caring during her busy day, along with her own child, whom it is clear she seldom sees. And there's a funny, slightly strange co-worker (played with great verve and humor by Teresa Sánchez, above and below, right) who bonds with Evelia, even as she uses her.

By the finale, you'll be as firmly in the shoes and soul of Evelia as would seem possible in the space of just 102 minutes in this graceful, lean-yet-packed look at the Mexican workplace that offers up class, economics and culture without ever jamming its ideas down our throats or creating typical hiss-worthy villains. Oh, everything's there, all right, but the great strength of the movie is how Evelia can, by virtue of character, rise above it.
Well, almost.

From Kino Lorber, in Spanish with English subtitles, The Chambermaid has its U.S. theatrical premiere this coming Wednesday, June 26, in New York City at Film Forum. The following Friday, July 5, it opens in San Francisco (at the Roxie) and Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal) before venturing out to a few more cities. Click here to view all currently scheduled playdates and theaters.

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