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Jacques (Jean-Pierre Bacri) is a sound engineer who lives a routine life in a quiet section of Paris. But since he wife left him, his newly found bachelor freedom has become monotonous: he is tired of the routine that takes him from work to the corner bistro to his messy apartment. One day Jacques answers an advertisement for a housekeeper, and when he meets Laura (Emilie Dequenne) a beautiful young woman from the outskirts of town, his life is never the same again.

Review by Louise Keller:
Released on DVD under its English title of The House Keeper, Claude Berri’s charming story about making a fresh start is a beautifully observed, sensitive and funny film filled with imagery and promise. Adapted from a novel by Christian Oster, one of the film’s greatest strengths is its truthful representation of loneliness. 

We first meet Jacques in his Paris apartment. It’s a mess and so is his life. He pops out to buy a baguette at the local store and sees an advertisement on the local message board offering the services of a housekeeper. There’s some eye-rolling as Jacques makes arrangements by phone to meet in a nearby café and not his apartment, and we wait with him as he inspects all the women who come through the door. No, Laura has not cleaned before, but she is sure she will like it, because ‘she likes cleaning other people’s houses’. We smile inwardly as he tidies up in preparation for Laura’s first visit on Monday, taking down all photos as if to leave no personal references on display.

The development of the relationship between these two opposites is utterly compelling; they are different ages, their taste in music is diametrically opposed and they enjoy different things. What a delicious recipe for a comic adventure of the heart! And Jean-Pierre Bacri and Emilie Dequenne are splendid as Jacques and Laura. Bacri allows Jacques’s emotional pain to be clearly on display; Dequenne’s Laura is a breath of fresh air with an infectious zest for living. While Laura has just broken up from her boyfriend, her concern is not a broken heart, but the fact she has nowhere to stay. The most interesting thing is that we have no idea where the relationship (or the film) is heading. 

But Jacques is not the only lonely one. There’s his good friend Claire who is still hurting from her husband leaving her, his ex-wife (played by filmmaker Catherine Breillat) trying to claw her way back into his life, hermit-like Ralph who has buried himself with his chickens (painting their portraits and then eating them!) in his Brittany farmhouse, and new divorcee Helene who is learning to live through the drama of her divorce. This is a film where the details matter. It’s about the mood and the nuance of the moment, the awkward silences as their share their first meal, the atmosphere at the local bar and the incongruity classical music competing against its loud contemporary counterpart. An unexpected night visitor prompts the trip to Brittany: a new location, a new hairstyle, a new role. 

From housekeeper to mistress, Laura revels in the change, pursuing Jacques as if he were a god. ‘I love you. I’ll wait for you to love me back…’ Every moment with Laura is like a step in the direction of change for Jacques. After all, the man who ‘doesn’t dance’ and ‘doesn’t swim’ is able to find his feet and stay afloat. ‘Dive in the water’ Helene urges Jacques, when he complains that it is too cold ‘All it takes, is a little courage.’ 

The resolution is truthful and realistic, opening a window filled with sunshine that peers into the future. If you answer an advertisement for a housekeeper, the story may not unfold exactly this way, but the characters all ring true.

Published July 29, 2004

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(France, 2002)

Une Femme de Menage

CAST: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Emilie Dequenne, Brigitte Catillon, Jacques Frantz, Axelle Abbadie, Catherine Breillat

DIRECTOR: Claude Berri

SCRIPT: Claude Berri

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

PRESENTATION: widescreen



DVD RELEASE: July 21, 2004

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