The radical film review
directed and written by Christian Petzold
France 1942: police raids in Paris target German refugees. Those who can, escape south, ahead of the occupying army moving into Vichy territory. In a bar, two Germans haggle over the price of a ‘favour’, delivering letters to a famous leftwing German writer, who one of the men – Georg – has never heard of. Offered a seat in a car leaving for Marseilles, Georg accepts, and steps outside into modern-day Paris.
In Marseilles – with modern buildings, cars and dress – Georg meets a youngster kicking a football, and plays goalkeeper. The boy and his mother, of North African origin, are similarly fearful of ‘the fascists’ and their ‘cleansing’ and ‘camps’.
Petzold’s adaptation of Anna Seghers’ 1944 novel fuses two realities – the brutalities of National Socialism and the treatment of asylum-seekers today. It takes us with a jolt into a world of 1940s interiors, technology and dress, set in 21st century streets and buildings. This is a world of fear and uncertainty, of people desperate to escape war and mass killing.
Georg, brooding and distrustful, is at the heart of the story. Carrying the writer’s papers after discovering the man has killed himself, Georg is mistaken for him at the Mexican consulate. It means a passage to Mexico, for himself and, as he discovers, the writer’s wife. The only boat, though, is via the United States, which is not keen to issue a transit visa to a communist.
Transit is a story of displacement, transient attachments and yearning, but also of loyalty and sacrifice. Haunting and bitterly relevant.
The Chambermaid (La Camarista)
directed and co-written by Lila Avilés
The tag on the hotel uniform says Evelia, and she’s Eve to some. But who she is hardly matters, as long as she unobtrusively and efficiently tidies and cleans each room, and moves on quietly to the next.
She works in the centre of Mexico City, with a two-hour journey before and after her shift. Aged twenty something, she has a four-year-old child whom she speaks to on the phone. This is monotonous work, made more tolerable by limited human contact, fantasy, and her hope for something different. Which may also be fantasy. Eve wants to get on, and the management offer inducements. She repeatedly asks about a dress a guest had left, that Eve handed in and had been promised. Not least, she’s told she’s in line for promotion to the 42nd floor, the VIP suite.
Lila Avilés’s debut film is as restrained and as pared back as Eve herself. We see the chambermaid work through her day and slowly understand what life offers her, what she has, and what she wants. She examines the wealthy guests’ belongings. She shuts the blinds on a window cleaner who’s trying to flirt. Until it’s closed down, she attends a hotel class to gain her General Education Diploma.
The Chambermaid is a small-scale film about a young woman who’s almost always in shot. But Avilés, previously a director of opera, gives us something much bigger: a subtle study of working life, of economic and social inequality, and a tribute to fortitude and to many others like Eve.
This article is from
the July-August 2019 issue
of New Internationalist.
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