Life is a habit. If nothing else.
Live In Main (Cama Adentro) is a drama written and directed by Jorge Gaggero and stars Norma Aleandro (Son of the Bride), and Norma Argentina (The City of Your Final Destination). The film is about a very wealthy woman and her live-in housekeeper’s relationship during the Argentina’s economic crisis. I always enjoy movies that have the ability to depict the diverse, yet whole, issues in relationships between two people, especially with the complexities of two women. The film delivers an emotional story and details the women’s underlying similarities and vulnerabilities, as they struggle to survive in a society based on male dominance, wealth, and social class.
Beba hadn’t paid Dora, Beba’s live-in maid of nearly 30 years, in months. She perches on a stool in Beba’s roomy and royally lavish apartment. After taking her final look around to ensure that every ashtray and tea cup was in its place, she snapped open a newspaper and began reading. In the meantime, Beba, donning a pair of dark, movie star glasses, nervously cruises the aisles of a local pawn shop, trying to sell her English teapot to get some money to pay Dora.
When asked by the pawnbroker, if she needed assistance, Beba tells him that she is only there to help an older friend of hers, who fell and has a broken leg, by bringing in an old English teapot she wanted to sell. When the broker offered her 12 pesos for her English teapot, she tells him that she expected more, because it is English China and that she will go home, and asks her “friend” what she would like to do about the pot.
When she returns to her apartment, Dora is immediately at her side, with a cup of coffee (instead of tea from her teapot). Dora asks her if ‘she knew what today was,’ inquiring about her pay. Beba responds that she knew, causing the moment to be met with a sudden, awkward silence. Beba, a middle-aged, formally wealthy woman, who lost her money through mismanagement and investing in the poor ventures of her former husband, Victor–can not afford her groceries, and would starve if Dora did not spend her money on food and cleaning supplies.
Living a life in faux luxury, with the inability to pay not only her bills but also her live-in maid, Dora, she maintains the façade–continually promising Dora that she will pay her salary when her new venture (selling cosmetics) pays off. Until then, Beba totally depends on Dora, and without her, Beba would starve. Perhaps due to loyalty, Dora continues to put up with Beba’s promises of payment. She continues to fill Beba’s empty, imported bottles with cheap, store-bought whiskey. She continues preparing and serving meals she purchased with her money, and although both women repay each other’s small kindnesses- Dora’s staying to be of service at a card game with Beba’s wealthy friends on her day off, and Beba applying mud masks to Dora’s face—they both continue to ignore the ever-obvious elephant in the room.
After a few months of this, with Beba’s demands becoming thankless and showing no indication of her paying Dora, she begins to look for work elsewhere. Both women are completely dependent on each other, and whether they realize it or not, they are friends. When Dora decides to look for other employment, she realizes all too soon that finding work is hard—and Beba, without the occasional financial support from her ex-husband, Victor, and the rations provided by her former maid, she faces the real possibility of starvation.
Live in Maid won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2005, as Gaggero’s first featured film. Beautifully filmed and poignant drama about two women, in the grips of Argentina’s devastating financial crisis, shows their inability to do without the other. Norma Aleandro and Norma Argentina brilliantly performed their roles, and it seemed as if their strained and penniless relationship was, just as life, a habit, if nothing else.