Judge Franck Tabouring is happy to have found a film that portrays a Latin American lifestyle quite uncommon in the U.S.
"You know what today is, don't you?"
Chances are you've never heard of this film before, but Jorge Gaggero's indie Live-In Maid scored well with critics nationwide and even snatched the Special Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Showing beyond doubt that it doesn't always take endless dialogue to get a message across, Live-In Maid is a slow-moving and rather quiet little film that bravely succeeds in examining the intricate relationship between two women whose life circumstances are anything but quiet.
Facts of the Case
Beba (Norma Aleandro, The Official Story) is an upper-middle-class woman who resides in a lovely apartment in Buenos Aires, but lately, life has not been treating her all too well. The film is set right after the 2001 economic crisis in Argentina, and Beba is on the verge of desperation. She never really worked before and always had enough money to take care of herself, but now, the situation has shifted. When Beba is not out trying to sell her porcelain pottery, she sits at home all day sipping whiskey. She did try to join a cosmetic company and sell their products, but no one really seems interested.
Living with Beba is her housekeeper Dora (Norma Argentina), a working-class woman who's been cleaning for Beba for the past 28 years. They both have been getting along well over the years and Dora usually takes care of everything, but Beba hasn't paid her in months. "You know what today is, don't you?" Dora asks her boss on her payday. "Yes, I know," Beba replies. When Dora finally gives in and decides to move out and look for another job, they both realize that living apart is actually worse than sticking together…
Set against the backdrop of yet another economic disaster in Argentina, Jorge Gaggero's directorial debut is an intense examination of the relationship between two Latin American women of different social classes. What makes the friendship between Beba and Dora all the more complex is that they are not only boss and maid, but also close friends. Dora desperately needs her wages to make her own living and could easily leave Beba for another job, but she doesn't. She suffers because she sees Beba's financial situation decline, and there's nothing she can do about it. Dora knows she is the only support her boss has got, and as often as she swears to grab her stuff and leave for good to do what's in her best interest, she's never strong enough to do so. Gaggero sincerely treats this subject matter in his compelling script, which, despite its straightforwardness, never drifts away from a strong sense of reality.
Gaggero's analysis of two different social classes works perfectly via the complex relationship between Dora and Beba. Although they have been living under the same roof for nearly 30 years, Beba thinks she still has a certain feeling of superiority over Dora. She often treats her like a child and doesn't care to penetrate her private life, but Dora never really has the courage to defend herself. Instead, in the hope of making Beba hush, she breaks a plate and pretends she accidentally dropped it. I don't want to spoil anything by going into further examining the reasons Beba reacts the way she does, but once you see the movie, you will understand how well everything is pieced together in the script.
Live-In Maid clocks in at 78 minutes only, but cinemagoers not used to this genre may find the plot dragging at times. Indeed, Gaggero uses a minimum of dialogue and barely any music, emphasizing instead on the facial reactions of his talented actresses. Making movies that succeed in telling whole stories without much text and a lot of contribution from the cast are always a challenge, but Gaggero's script is powerful enough to turn Live-In Maid into a unique experience that gives its viewers the opportunity to come up with their own interpretation. Oscar nominee Norma Aleandro carries the movie on her shoulders, offering an intriguingly realistic performance as a woman whose life decline with the disappearance of her money. Co-star Norma Argentina is perfect for the role as the one with a more reserved personality.
Although this is a low-budget film, the quality of the picture and sound is top-notch. Most of the film takes place inside a relatively dark apartment, but the image is always clear and sharp enough. The lack of music and the limited dialogue help avoid complications with the sound transfer, but everything they end up saying is clearly understandable. Please remember that the film is in Spanish with English subtitles.
Besides a theatrical trailer, the bonus material on the disc includes a 23-minutes behind-the-scenes featurette that includes footage from the film and interviews with Jorge Gaggero, Norma Aleandro and Norma Argentina. Summing up the plot in great detail, they also discuss their characters and help their viewers better understand what it is about the relationship between Dora and Beba that is so compelling. I have to admit this making-of is not among the most insightful, but it offers a decent additional commentary about the complexity of the main characters. All in all, I am happy the DVD includes come extra material in the first place.
Cinemagoers familiar with the genre will instantly love Live-In Maid. Others interested in its thematic may find it difficult at first to sit through the slow-paced plot, but in the end, it's an experience that will have an impact on anyone who dares to watch it. It's sad that films like these never make it into more than just a handful of theaters, but I guess that's where the beauty of DVDs comes in. Now everyone can enjoy this delicious drama.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
• Behind-The-Scenes Featurette
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