Set against Argentina’s financial meltdown in 2001, Jorge Gaggero’s impressive debut delicately dissects class conflict and friendship. Dora (Argentina), the domestic servant, is not murderous, like the hired help in Jean Genet’s play The Maids (and the several film iterations it inspired). Beba (Aleandro), la señora, despite her shellacked hair and booziness, never lapses into Almodóvar harridan territory. Her financial security rapidly unraveling, the middle-aged failed entrepreneur owes her employee of 30 years seven months’ back pay. “I don’t understand how you can do this to me when I need you the most,” Beba whimpers after Dora decides to call the dysfunctional arrangement quits.
While Gaggero’s spare aesthetic precludes melodrama, the touchstone here is Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life. The push-pull between mistress and maid—all the more enhanced by the outstanding performances of veteran Aleandro and newcomer Argentina (who’d worked as a traffic cop and housekeeper for 20 years)—recalls that between Lana Turner and Juanita Moore in the 1959 weepie. Although Live-in Maid never becomes an apologia for bourgie bad behavior, its conclusion, like Sirk’s film, may end on too sanguine a note. Can exploitation really be forgiven so easily?