"Live-in Maid" by Jorge Gaggero The Ups and Downs of Life By Jan Brodal

in 15th Tromso International Film Festival

by Jan Brodal

The “Master and Servant” relationship (or “Herr und Knecht”, as the German philosopher Hegel puts it in his famous treatise) has captivated many writers, composer and philosophers during the course of history: Cervantes, Mozart, Diderot, Leo Tolstoy and many more.

Much has changed since the times when Don Quixote fought the windmills, but the theme still attracts and captivates.

This is also evident in one of the films of the Tromso International Film Festival (TIFF), namely Live-in Maid (Cama adentro) by the young Argentinean Jorge Gaggero.

Gaggero gives his theme a truly contemporary treatment, drawing on the social instability and the quick, never-ending changes so characteristic of our times. His intimate film drama tells the story about two women with an extremely different background, who nevertheless are very close because of their having lived together for 30 years.

Senora Beba was once a wealthy businesswoman in the cosmetics trade. But times have changed, and now her wealth has changed into heavy debts. For many years, she has been selling off various precious objects, but now the music has to be faced: she will have to sell her spacious flat in downtown Buenos Aires and go to live somewhere else.

Her maid Dora joined Beba as a young woman from the poor northern province of Chaco. During all these years, the Indian Dora has taken impeccably care of Beba’s flat and household, as well as acting as her mistress’ everyday companion.

Now Beba cannot any more afford to pay her servant maid; lately she has not even been able to pay her monthly payment to Dora, and has been obliged to stoop so low as to beg her brother for a loan.

Dora leaves Beba for her little suburban house, which is quite nice given the circumstances. There a boyfriend of her age is waiting for her. He has stayed with her before, but Dora did not spend much time with him due to her work as Beba’s live-in maid.

Gradually, she realizes that her boyfriend is not her ideal mate. More and more often, she thinks of her long coexistence with Beba. Minor quarrels occurred, harsh words might have been uttered, but, on the whole, they were comfortable with the situation. Dora understood that Beba was her mistress; Beba understood that Dora was simply indispensable, and had to be remunerated for that in some form or other.

Suddenly Dora turns up at Beba’s flat on the latter’s birthday, bringing a magnificent birthday cake, and telling her that Dora is looking for work in the vicinity, so that she will be able to call on her mistress each day, and do — free of charge — at least some of the chores she did in the good old times.

This arrangement, however, comes to nothing, as Beba is so hard pressed by her debtors that she has to sell her flat at once.

But salvation comes from the faithful Dora. Her boyfriend gone, she invites Beba to stay with her permanently; the last scene shows Beba’s bed being transferred to her new home.

Life goes on. But how will life be, now that the conditions of power are completely changed?

Gaggero and his team do not tell us; they leave it to the viewer to draw the conclusions, and guess what direction the events will take.

Thus, the film ends on a note of ambiguity, giving it a poignant, challenging air of uncertainty.

The lead actresses perform excellently; Dora is obviously played by a non-professional, which suits the director’s cinema verité leanings well.

Live-in Maid is evidently a low-budget film, which also suits its narrative mode well.