"Live-In Maid" Behind the Mask By Karin Wolfs

in 17th Toulouse Rencontres des Cinémas d'Amérique Latine

by Karin Wolfs

Like a spoiled girl playing around with her doll, that’s how the Argentinean senora Beba treats her live-in maid Dora, who’s evidently grown accordingly pigheaded through the twenty years they’ve shared their lives together. As soon as Dora enters the apartment, Beba starts calling for her.

It’s in the dark space of the apartment that first time Argentinean writer-director Jorge Gaggero sets his feature debut Live-In Maid (Cama adentro), a psychological kammerspiel starring two woman in the autumn of their lives, representing different ends of society, both struggling to survive in post-krach Argentina, and both coping in their own way. Beba, with her ‘keeping up appearances’-like approach to life, and the harsh-looking Dora stubborn one. Used to a life of luxury, Beba is trying — though increasingly failing — to make a living out of selling fancy cosmetics on a door-to-door basis. Suitably, facial masks are her speciality. She opportunistically ‘treats’ Dora to a visit to the hairdresser and one of her facial mud masks, only to be able to show off the ‘results’ to her posh visiting girlfriends that evening.

In a deceptively plain and simple looking film, Gaggero provides the ideal stage for his actresses: with Argentinean diva Norma Aleandro as senora Beba and amazingly, Norma Argentina as Dora — Live-In Maid was her acting debut.

Gaggero also found a great down-to-earth kind of humour to contrast beautifully the tragic and humiliating events occurring in the protagonist’s lives. Hilariously funny is the scene in which the hairdresser proposes ‘a queen-of-Spain’-style of coup to Beba. Even more brilliant is the scene in which tragedy and humour go side by side with Dora filling up a foreign brand whisky bottle with a cheap local one for Beba’s guests.

Things start to change when Beba, unwilling to compromise her lifestyle, hasn’t been able to pay Dora’s salary for some months, upon which Dora decides to quit and leave. Once alone, Beba gets to know the tough side of life – without luxury or Dora, who knew all her secrets and supported all her drama queenish acts for attention. Being separated from her husband and on non-speaking terms with her daughter, Beba’s isolation is complete. In a heartbreaking moment, her ‘mask’ breaks over a plate of oriental food in an empty restaurant, whose owner refuses to pay for her cosmetic products, but offers a meal instead.

Dora on the other hand, being after her lazy man all day, misses the routine of her work and the company of her demanding but good-hearted ex-employer. Familiar with the hardships of compromising, Dora decides to pay the signora a visit on her birthday to bring her a professional-looking home-made cake. Nothing much is said. But once Beba has to leave her apartment, she knows there is but one place to go.