Domestic disturbance

Pub date August 29, 2007
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

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When Argentine director Jorge Gaggero’s first feature opened theatrically in New York about a month ago, East Coast film critics responded very enthusiastically. Of course, that didn’t come as much of a surprise; after Live-In Maid‘s initial release in 2005, it not only earned many distinctions at the Argentinean Film Critics Association Awards but also won numerous prizes in the various film festivals it traveled around the world, including the Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize.

Celebrated Argentine actress Norma Aleandro, one of the film’s protagonists, is at the center of most discussions surrounding the film. Aleandro became known in the United States after taking one of the leading parts in The Official Story, which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1985, and has acted in many movies and plays since. But while Argentine cinema’s grande dame does a wonderful, graceful job as Beba — a formerly famous and wealthy woman in decline — Live-in Maid‘s most revealing performance is by Norma Argentina, who plays Dora, Beba’s maid for 28 years.

During casting, Gaggero chose Argentina from thousands of real maids he met all over the country. "[Dora is] a physical role, in a way, without many words, and it [is] told a lot with her expressions and her physique. To work as a live-in maid all your life, it has a special posture and a special thing I wanted to achieve," the director explained over the phone from his home country. Indeed, Argentina’s physical presence in the film is imposing and laden with meaning. A glance, a touch, or the slightest of movements is enough to reveal all we need to know about Dora and her emotional struggle: she’s fighting between the affection she feels for Beba and the resentment she stores for her, as Beba hasn’t paid her for seven months.

The whole film relies heavily on a very exact choreography between the two characters. "I had a very precise idea of the space," Gaggero admitted. "It was all written: ‘[Dora] had to take two steps to the kitchen and get that glass.’ So there was a timing that was already in the script." The characters’ dance-like exchange lends Live-In Maid a feeling that is almost corporeal and creates a very subtle account of the two women’s relationship. It calls close attention to detail and calls for an intuitive response on the viewer’s part — you recognize the characters’ emotions because you can feel them under your skin.

The subtle treatment of the film’s protagonists befits Live-In Maid‘s delicate subject matter. And although many critics have brought attention to the way Beba and Dora’s relationship reflects the economic crisis Argentina faced in 2001, the filmmaker actually intended to make a broader statement. "I try to believe that it’s wider than the crisis," Gaggero revealed. "I think that it has something to do with a cultural crisis. People always want to escape and justify their miseries and challenges in a social way. [Beba] is a very particular kind of character that is specific to an upper middle class in Argentina, perhaps in all countries, but [she exposes a] particular way of thinking and feeling. Perhaps the crisis makes her go a step down, but in a way it’s not the crisis. She never learned something more. She was very comfortable in a world that was easy."<\!s>*


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