Is Norma Aleandro one of our greatest living actresses? Like Annette Bening in Being Julia, she makes a middling film seem great. Jorge Gaggero’s first feature-length production takes place in late 2001, when Argentina’s economy, weakened by countless deficits and tax increases, reached an all-time low. This is the backdrop for this story about a divorced bourgeois woman, Beba (Aleandro), who can no longer afford to pay her maid’s salary. Gaggero trades in shopworn clichés—Beba is a ghoul and the dark-skinned Dora (Norma Argentina) is a saint—but the actresses bring warmth and complexity to their stock roles, magnifying class struggle through their intriguing back-and-forths. As the film begins, Beba already owes Dora more than seven months’ salary, and bitterness hangs in the air: Beba barks out orders with some measure of trepidation, and yet Dora still comes to her beck and call—both a sign of her loyalty to a 30-year-old friendship and a means of throwing a wrench at their particular master/slave dynamic. But this abuse can’t last for long, and if these women can ever sustain a legitimate friendship, rather than an imitation of one, it is clear they must transcend their class difference. This is not something she would ever admit to, but Beba is afraid of being alone (more so than being poor), which is why she tries to keep Dora by offering her cheap substitutes for money, like bottles of face cream (made from trace elements from some local volcano) and trips to the beauty salon. When Beba’s bourgeois friends come over to play cards, Dora is gawked at like an animal inside a cage; she clearly resents the abuse, which she later takes out on her janitor boyfriend. This is a wonderful scene, because it illuminates something the privileged are very good at doing: humiliating the poor without knowing they’re doing it. Live-In Maid may be a bit schematic in design, but it understands both the way humiliation can eat the soul and the freedom of not having money.
- The Film Sales Company
- 83 min
- Jorge Gaggero
- Jorge Gaggero
- Norma Aleandro, Norma Argentina, Elsa Berenguer, Hilda Bernard, Monica Gonzaga, Susana Lanterí, Claudia Lapacó, Marcos Mundstock
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