Beba Pujol (Norma Aleandro, "The Official Story," "Son of the Bride") is a proud, once wealthy woman struggling to accept the downturn of her financial situation in an economically depressed Buenos Aires. The whisky she drinks too much of only temporarily masks the problem. Her real support comes from the endurance of her thirty year relationship with her "Live In Maid."
Writer/director Jorge Gaggero has created a complex, emotionally true, two handed character study with riveting performances from the much heralded and Oscar nominated veteran Aleandro and first timer Norma Argentina as Dora, the stoic maid. The contrast between the always dignified Dora, who is beginning to chafe against her unpaid wages, and Beba, crumbling inside while trying to maintain her own perceived persona exemplifies the changes in relationships when the power base shifts.
Dora, whose expression rarely flickers, goes about her daily grind, which includes surreptitiously filling imported whisky bottles with the local stuff, yet becomes more vocal about her wages. Beba makes elaborate excuses, then, hidden behind giant sunglasses, tries to pawn a teapot. A new job selling cosmetic facial masques provides initial hope, but her desperation becomes more apparent when her sales pitches fall on folks much like herself. A low point finds her trading product for a cheap meal in a Chinese restaurant.
Beba is further alienated by her family - the daughter, Guillermina, who goes to school in Madrid and times her telephone calls when only Dora will be home, and the ex-husband Víctor (Marcos Mundstock), who is kind but firm about his inability to support her. (In fact, a family photo shows a young Guillermina standing with her hands placed on the seated shoulders of Victor and Dora, which, when combined with failings learned later about Dora's character, make one question just whose daughter she is.)
Dora eventually decides she has no option but to leave her unpaid position and so heads to the country where she has been building a small home with the boyfriend her boss disparages, Miguel (Raul Panguinao) (Beba prefers her own building's janitor, Luisito, for Dora, but her motives seem transparent. Gaggero's writing is not so obvious, however.) The seven months wages she has finally received (Victor had convinced Beba to sell her cherished gold earrings) will buy the 'classy' flooring she covets. But Dora's life without Beba is not what she anticipated and when Beba finally moves to humbler lodging in the city, a kindly act suggests a new situation for them both.
From the rooms and spaces which house the two women to the slow unraveling of their history together, "Live In Maid" is a wonder of economic storytelling. In a mere 83 minutes, Gaggero not only unfurls two complete lives before us but shows us the intricate ties that bind them. What a find in Norma Argentina, whose strength of character is shown in her bearing, who conveys a range of emotion with a facial expression that never changes (one which is Gaggero plays with comic subtlety when Beba's application of mud masque makes Dora look like a native warrior), except for the hint of a smile as she dances with Miguel. Aleandro is a coil of jittery anxiety, a somewhat unlikable woman at first who makes us warm up to her as she tries what she can to survive. That she holds up charade to the end is endearing in Aleandro's hands.
"Live In Maid" is proof that the simple stuff of life can make for great drama in the right hands. Jorge Gaggero's small film has great heart and humanity without ever slipping into sentimentality.
Robin gives "Live In Maid" an A-.
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