Lila Aviles debut feature is a portrait of a young chambermaid in one of Mexico’s elite hotels. From the unassuming opening, she invites the viewer to almost voyeuristically observe the tasks which constitute her working day. Her camera peeps through cracks in doors and is positioned at discreet distances from our protagonist as though the viewer is encountering the chambermaid about her work. Lingering over the banality and mechanics of replenishing amenities (toilet rolls and towels) and changing beds serves to emphasise the torpor of such a job. Aviles’ direction of these sequences allows the viewer to truly spend time in the task and experience a tiny fraction of that particular grind.
The casting of Gabriel Cartol as Evelina (Eve) succeeds largely due to her ability to convey the dual aspects of her character. Wearing a beige uniform as a sort of societal shield she floats in and out of guests orbit routinely ignored and barely acknowledged but the fun is in noticing how she registers such ignorance. Eve is a compelling protagonist who at times seems likely to be crushed by the corporatism that envelopes her gentle manner.
Betraying traditional expectations of dramatic arcs the stakes for Eve are relatively low. She is exploited/ befriended by a rich Argentinean lady who employs her as an ad hoc babysitter. In a different screenplay, this socio-economic plot point could have led to an inequality critique but Aviles eschews any overtly political message to focus on the minutiae of Eve’s modest working life (by deliberately avoiding her home life) and imbuing the character with a sense of optimism as she works.
There are some delightful moments as she gingerly examines the varied and changing objects that each room presents amongst the personal detritus that is left behind. When the Argentinean lady, albeit fleetingly, floats the possibility or bare concept of a different future it is snatched from her reality before she and we had barely any time to contemplate its significance.
The injection of drama, if it can be categorised as such, is introduced in the form of the jeopardy involved in a potential promotion and the inherent competition amongst peers. Even in these quite relatable moments, Eve remains consistent only allowing herself one near-silent meltdown underlining the importance of appearances and behaviour when working in high-end hospitality.
This is a solid and sensibly scaled debut feature from an actress who obviously understands the power of observing the activities of real people as they perform the familiar tasks of their vocation. She cleverly deploys this method to exemplify issues of inequality and privilege as opposed to filling the screenplay, she wrote with Juan Marquez, with rhetoric and emotional discourse.
@Filmhouse, Edinburgh until Mon 26 Aug 2019