WOMEN ON THE 6TH FLOOR, THE
Earnest stockbroker and family man Jean Louis Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) lives the typical early 1960s middle class Parisian life, with his lovely wife Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain) and a couple of young sons. When their long time housemaid leaves and they find a replacement in Maria (Natalia Verbeke), Jean Louis's world begins to change as the young Spanish woman and her fellow maids living in pokey rooms on the 6th floor of the apartment block, attract his attention. Their simple and hardworking lives hide a love of life to which the bored and boring Jean Louis responds, almost against his will. And after years of worrying about how perfectly his googgy egg is cooked, Jean Louis discovers the things that are more important in his life.
Review by Louise Keller:
The distance between the bourgeoisie and the working class has never been so delightfully measured as in this delicious upstairs downstairs comedy, when a Spanish maid becomes the catalyst for change. The inspiration for writer director Philippe Le Guay's story was inspired by his childhood, when his family employed a Spanish housemaid. Here, Le Guay contrasts only too well the chilly mood that exists in the fine apartment of the stockbroker and his icy wife with the warmth and joie de vivre that exudes from the Spanish contingent of domestics who live on the 6th floor. Vive la difference!
In the opening scenes, we meet Fabrice Luchini's pedantic stockbroker Jean-Louis Joubert (whose day is sunny if he starts it with a three and a half minute egg for breakfast), and his socialite, bridge-playing wife Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain). The pretty new Spanish maid Maria (Natalia Verbeke) with a dimpled smile has changed everything at home; not only does she manage the housekeeping perfectly, but her presence has injected a warmth that was previously missing. There's a wonderful exuberance about life on the 6th floor, where all the Spanish maids live in close proximity to each other and support each other in everything. That first day on the job, when Maria asks her friends to give her a hand with the chores, they vacuum, polish, clean and iron to the contagious strains of Itsy Bitsy Yellow Polka dot Bikini, making the life of a domestic look far more enticing than the boring days spent by their bosses.
The way Jean-Louis becomes involved in the lives of the women starts quite naturally - a blocked toilet, a phone call for a sister's baby, an apartment for an abused wife and teaching them about financial investments. Suddenly, he is spending more and more time with the Spanish women and when Suzanne accuses him of an affair with a man-eating socialite client by the wonderful name of Bettina de Brossolette (Audrey Fleurot), he can't be bothered denying it and uses it as an excuse to move into a little attic room near the women on the 6th floor.
Of course we sense from the beginning that there's a sprinkling of magic between Jean-Louis and the gorgeous Maria, but Le Guay is careful to nurture the relationship between Jean-Louis and the entire group of women, rather than simply his relationship with Maria. The rather dry stockbroker lacking in a sense of humour suddenly becomes human while the cracks start to appear in the façade of his aimless wife. Le Guay has gathered a sensational cast of women including Almodovar favourites Carmen Maura, Concha Galán and Lola Dueńas. Verbeke shines brightly as the almost too-good to be true Maria, whose genuine warmth and sincerity has a positive effect on everyone around her. Luchini, meanwhile makes the transition beautifully. An uplifting story with plenty of chuckles and surprises, the women on the 6th floor are definitely ones you will want to meet.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The love-hate relationship of French cinema with Parisian bourgeoisie continues in this mostly endearing comedy, in which the bourgeoisie stockbroker finds redemption through true love. But the vehicle is unusual, a meeting of the employer families and the hardworking maids who clean and shop and cook and live in cramped quarters without a reliable toilet between them.
But that's on the 6th floor, where mostly Spanish women have found themselves doing work the French won't do, scraping their savings for various dreams - or family even poorer than they are. Although this element gives the film it's harder edge, Philippe Le Guay doesn't present the women as victims. Indeed, they are survivors and much of the film's grit comes from their earthy endurance and humour.
By contrast, just a floor below, Jean Louis (Fabrice Luchini) and his wife Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain), live the comfortable life that a profitable little stockbroking business and children absent at weekly boarding school can provide. Comfortable, predictable, but dull and lifeless life.
Enter Maria (Natalia Verbeke), a pretty young woman who quickly networks her Spanish compatriots on the 6th floor and is a proud and effective maid - without being subservient. She has character and she has a past that has a long tail in the story, a story which unwinds in a combination of humour and drama.
Luchini is superbly cast as Jean Louis, as are all the actors in a wonderful ensemble piece of work, with plenty of texture, a few well observed social barbs (as is usual in films about the bourgeoisie) and occasionally unexpected twists and turns.
The film has a soft heart, so much so that it often lacks the bite to make it resonate, but the casting of even the smallest roles is so authentic that it feels tougher than it really is. The resolution - although incomplete dramatically - is satisfying enough, and the lingering mood is one of satisfaction that some sort of justice and love triumph over the banal.
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WOMEN ON THE 6TH FLOOR, THE (PG)
Les femmes de 6e etage
CAST: Fabrice Luchini, Sandrine Kiberlain, Natalia Verbeke, Carmen Maura, Lola Duanas, Berta Ojea, Nuria Sole, Concha Galan, Marie Armelle Deguy, Audrey Fleurot, Annie Mercier
PRODUCER: Etienne Comar, Philippe Rousselet
DIRECTOR: Philippe Le Guay
SCRIPT: Philippe Le Guay, Jerome Tonnerre
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jean-Claude Larrieu
EDITOR: Monica Coleman
MUSIC: Jorge Arriagada
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 15, 2011