Live-In Maid

PARK CITY -- The small, well-acted chamber drama is a genre that has virtually disappeared from American screens, which is too bad when you see one as accomplished as "Live-in Maid". Powered by two first-rate performances, Jorge Gaggero's debut feature is full of psychological nuance and keen social observation. It's an impressive feat and one that should find an audience in art houses worldwide.

Set in Buenos Aires, film focuses on the intertwined lives of the haughty bourgeois Beba (Norma Aleandro) and Dora (Norma Argentina), her maid of thirty years. Living in close quarters for so long, they have become like husband and wife or best friends, though neither of them would acknowledge it. As the Argentine economy has tumbled, Beba's fortunes have fallen to the point where she can't pay her bills, drinks heavily and owes Dora seven months salary. The first desperate scene of the film in which Beba is trying to pawn a near worthless piece of China perfectly sets the stage.

Gaggero creates a leisurely pace, not rushing the storytelling but allowing details to be revealed by the characters as the film goes along. Beba meets with a man (Marcos Mundstock) to borrow money and only later do we learn it's her brother. A crucial piece of information about her grown daughter, who has moved away to Madrid and clearly wants nothing to do with her mother, doesn't come into focus until late in the film. The truth of these lives lies in the little details..

Aleandro, a star in Argentina for thirty years and perhaps best known internationally for her leading role in "The Official Story" fifteen years ago, magically makes us care about the decline of an unsympathetic person. Aleandro allows us to see the character's sadness and unexpressed feelings as they flicker across her face. She may be a monster but she's also human.

Argentina is equally as good but had never acted before. Gaggero found her at an open call for women who had been maids. She seems to instinctively understand her character and the class difference between Dora and Beba.

The two actors work beautifully together. Dora is so used to indulging Beba that she knows just when to fill the expensive whiskey bottles with the cheap stuff for guests. Still, Dora is hurt when Beba gives her some makeup samples and later discovers her ulterior motives. Beba, like many of the idle wealthy, has only one thing on her mind--herself. Hard times do soften her some and the final scene reflects a touching if reluctant change in status.

Although most of the action takes place in Beba's small apartment, Gaggero has the ingenuity to make it visually striking (cleverly shot by Javier Julia). One shot in particular, where the two women go to the hairdresser together and sit side by side under hairdryers reading magazines, is visual storytelling at its best. With the use of a non-professional in one of the leads, "Live-in Maid" has the feel of Italian neo-realist cinema and the naturalness of the French new wave. Gaggero does not even use any music because he felt this was a film of little sounds and silences. When is the last time you heard silence in a movie?


Aqua Films production


Director: Jorge Gaggero

Writer: Gaggero

Producers: Veronica Cura, Anton Reixa, Diego Mas Trelles

Executive producer: Cura

Director of photography: Javier Julia

Production designer: Marcela Bazzano

Costume designer: Marisa Urruti

Editor: Guillermo Represas.


Beba: Norma Aleandro

Dora: Norma Argentina

Victor: Marcos Mundstock

Miguel: Raul Panguinao

No MPAA rating

Running time -- 83 minutes

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