The Spanish title that has been translated “Live-in Maid” is “Cama Adentro,” which really means “Bed Inside.” The bed in question is a small trundle in the back room of an upscale Buenos Aires apartment, and it is the dwelling place of Dora, who has been the family’s maid for 30 years.
The only family member still living at home is Beba (Norma Aleandro), a haughty heiress who has squandered most of her fortune and only recently had to sell her house and move to this apartment. Dora (Norma Argentina), faithful and loyal even though she disapproves of the mistress’ behavior and receives few outward signs of respect from her, knows Beba better than anyone, and is now Beba’s only regular companion. Dora knows to buy the cheap liquor and put it in the expensive bottles before Beba’s friends come over to play cards. When Beba steps on a piece of glass, Dora gently, soothingly strokes her leg as she removes the shard from her foot, like a mother dealing with a temperamental daughter.
“Live-in Maid” is what “Will & Grace” would be if it focused on Karen and Rosario, and if it were in Spanish. It is a droll little movie about an awkward relationship that becomes more real as circumstances require it to. Beba can no longer afford to pay Dora, which means their three-decade professional relationship cannot continue. But surely a woman and her live-in maid are more than just an employer and her employee, especially after 30 years. Beba obviously needs her maid in order to get anything done, but Dora is surprised to find she needs Beba, too. The film’s underlying sweetness comes from both women’s realization that they are, in a convoluted, co-dependent way, best friends.
Written and directed by Jorge Gaggero, the movie has some amusing dialogue, albeit few laugh-out-loud moments. Where it excels is in its casting: Norma Aleandro and Norma Argentina are absolutely perfect, both separately and as a team. Aleandro, an Argentine film veteran, has the look of a woman who wants to be imperious but can no longer afford it, the face of someone trying to keep her dignity. Beba treats Dora poorly, but only because she is too proud to admit she loves her like a sister.
Argentina, meanwhile, a new-comer, has a well-worn face, full of character and honesty, imbuing Dora with a sassy, no-nonsense attitude that is underlined by her inherent kindness. Dora and Beba both seem like real people, independent women who struggle to hide how dependent they really are.
B+ (1 hr., 22 min.; Spanish with subtitles; )