Dir/scr:Jorge Gaggero. Arg-Sp. 2004. 87mins.

Jorge Gaggero'sprize-winning Live-In Maid (Cama Adentro) is a wonderfully touching,understated two-hander from Argentina which has been an audience-pleaser at theSan Sebastian, Brussels and Sundance film festivals. Indeed, it won a specialjury prize in the inaugural world drama competition section of Sundance. Its release in Argentina has been pencilled in for May.

Boasting astuteperformances by Argentinian veteran Norma Aleandro and newcomer NormaArgentina, it's a little jewel of a film running only to 87 minutes and it willneed careful handling to achieve any theatrical profile outsideSpanish-speaking territories. If anything, it marks the emergence of a vibrantnew talent from Argentina in director Gaggero whose directorial debut this is.

The media story here, whichmight prove valuable as a marketing hook for distributors, is the casting ofArgentina as Dora, the live-in maid to an affluent Buenos Aires woman. The56-year-old had previously worked as a housekeeper herself for 20 years and wasone of 1000 amateur and professional actors and housekeepers who auditioned forthe role in March 2003. The fact that this is her acting debut and that sheholds her own against Aleandro is incredible; that she was a professionalhousekeeper herself adds to the piquancy of the film.

The film is set against thebackdrop of the current economic crisis in Argentina. Aleandro plays an ageingsingle divorcee from the upper middle class called Beba, whose daughter hasmoved to Spain and whose high standard of living is taking a hit as herearnings and savings dry up.

Unable even to pay herutility bills and desperately trying to keep up appearances in front of hername-dropping friends, she holds on as long as she can to her beloved maidDora, but ultimately Dora is compelled to leave Beba when she repeatedly failsto get paid.

Beba finds it hard tosurvive on her own. She pawns jewellery, buys cheaper whisky than usual, asksfor loans, but ultimately cannot make ends meet.

Dora meanwhile sets aboutliving back in her own house in a poor suburb with her partner Miguel(Panguinao), but feels disenchanted and purposeless. Despite themistress-servant nature of their relationship, both Dora and Beba realise thatthey might not be able to live without each other.

Gaggero's achievement hereis to make the relationship between the two women both funny and moving withoutresorting to high comedy or sentimentality. It's a not a dialogue-heavy film,relying more on the faces of the actresses to convey the dilemmas of theircharacters and their helplessness when the bond that holds them together issevered.

Through precise storytellingand revealing details, Gaggero illuminates the history of the relationshipbetween mistress and servant while at the same time unveiling its shiftingpatterns. Beba's smart centrally-located apartment is an especially evocativesetting for most of the drama, reflecting the decay of her class with its dated70s fittings and soulless polish.

Prod cos: Libido Cine, Aquafilms, Filmanova
Int'l sales:
(Eng-lang terrs) TheFilm Sales Company, (rest of world) Aquafilms
Exec prod:
Veronica Cura
Veronica Cura, AntonReixa, Diego Mas Trelles
Javier Julia
Prod des:
Marcela Bazzano
Guillermo Represas
Main cast:
Norma Aleandro, NormaArgentina, Marcos Mundstock, Raul Panguinao, Susana Lanteri, Elsa Berenguer