The Chambermaid is a film about Eve, an indigenous worker in a luxury hotel in Mexico. The film is shot from entirely within the hotel. It is as though the director wants to see if you can tell the story of someone’s full humanity through the keyhole of their work. Because work is where you come to deny your humanity, dehumanise and mechanise yourself. And this is doubly so for women in customer service who must never get frustrated or angry, seem tired or resentful, or express need and desire.
Much of the film is dialogueless, with Eve running between rooms to get her floor finished on time. You watch her smooth down comforters with a broom handle, fold toilet paper, spin lampshades round for a dusting. It gives you time to see what you never normally see, the hidden skill and strain of work which leaves behind a perfectly pressed capsule of comfort.
The little time to herself you see Eve have is usually hiding in the toilet – which identify! God knows what it’s like to be like, “I’m sitting in here pretending I’m taking a half-hour long shit. I don’t care if they think I have a bowel condition. I need a fucking break.” She plays on her phone, texts home, and just takes time to breathe.
She calls home near the end of her shift to announce she is on her way to pick up her kid, or to hear his voice if she’s pulling a double. Her home life is unseen, as it is meant to be in a place of work. This means that the film shows her performing all these tasks for others, but the thing which is most important to her is given no space.
Eve is remarked on by a number of characters as shy. Her reserve is one of her most valuable skills as she is able to handle almost any customer interaction without betraying any emotion. Yet is she really shy or does her job just provide no outlet for expression of her inner self? We get glimpses of more as the film goes on, passion in flirtations with a window cleaner, and rage in frustrations when thwarted.
And the strange dislocation of being entirely focused on the customer experience without ever coming into contact with them, brings up the necessary element of human interaction. When people talk about a rewarding job, how is that formulated when the better you do your job, the less likely your customers will think of your existence at all? And what about the humanising effect inherent in human interaction, the basic acknowledgement of your existence that comes with visibility, a cardinal sin for ‘the help’?
Eve does manage to find little interactions with her customers, or on a more basic level, the people round about her. The Japanese photographer whose books and photos she leafs through, whose strange sweeties she takes, and who leaves his room completely tidy, bed stripped and folded, with a flower as appreciation for her. There is a dialogue even without meeting, in the way that they leave the room for her and she leaves the room for them.
A film that manages to stay engaging despite documenting repetition and tasks deemed ‘menial’, which accords full humanity to its subject even within its own structure as work as a peephole, and in which visibility is one of the most basic exchanges of power.