Lila Avilés’ debut feature is showing in competition at the Festival this year and it’s easy to see why it deserves to be there. This is an accomplished piece of filmmaking that lays out numerous issues for the audience without preaching to anyone.
Eve (Gabriela Cartol) works as a chambermaid at the luxurious Presidente Intercontinental in Mexico City - though the name of the hotel is never mentioned in the movie. Her ambition is to work her way up to the prestigious 42nd floor where an opening has just come up. She can achieve this she is told through hard work. We follow her daily routine as she tidies and chases around after guests and hassles her supervisor about her promotion and a red dress that was left behind by a guest that has been promised to her if it remains unclaimed. In terms of plot, that’s it. In terms of story, there is so much more here.
The movie has a wonderfully absurdist sense of humour, something you suspect is vital if you were in Eve’s position. She is repeatedly called upon to deliver complimentary amenities to the breathtakingly spoiled guests. Shots of her adding yet more shampoo to a shelf already filled with shampoo will elicit astonished laughs even as we bemoan the lack of decency of the sort of people who can never have enough free items despite their incredible wealth. Eve goes about these chores diligently, keeping her head down and attempting to complete her studies in her rare free time. Occasional calls to home and a hilariously furtive potential relationship with one of the hotel window cleaners fill in what little time she has left.
The guests inability to communicate with the maids comes across in a myriad of ways, from literally refusing to speak to them through to condescension from a mother who uses Eve as childcare and pretends to empathise with her position. But it’s in the back of house relationships that this movie really shines. The hive of activity behind the scenes is truly another world, but one that has parallels to the exclusive world above stairs.
The staff hustle and jockey for position in innumerable ways as they all try to supplement their meagre incomes and get through the tedium of their days. The same level of competition and nous that is presumably seen in the rich patrons of the hotel is well evident in the staff, the same competitive drive that we are all told is seen in the higher levels of society, it is all here below stairs too. Leading the viewer to look at what the real difference is between those in the penthouse and those in the basement really is.
And it’s this level of complexity that gives Avilés’ movie such tremendous meaning beyond its fly on the wall concept. As we see the union close down the educational programme and Eve purchase a load of Tupperware she doesn’t need, we realise that the absurdities aren’t just with the expensive guests. This is a movie that will give different things to different people. It’s brilliantly played by Cartol and its non-judgemental view of life behind the scenes gives plenty of space for the viewer to consider their position, were they in the hotel. As Eve finally heads out from the hotel at the end of the movie (the first time we see her go outside, or indeed really see outside beyond the city skyline), we are left ruminating on a vast array of questions. This is a brilliant debut from Avilés.