The Women on the 6th Floor
Light and frothy upstairs/downstairs French comedy
Several stalwarts of European cinema retread familiar territory in this light-as-a-feather upstairs/downstairs comedy set in 1960s Paris. The story exists in that broad and cartoonish realm that seems to be the exclusive domain of middle class French comedies and is a constant source of rich rewards at the home box office (sure enough, this was one of the biggest hits of 2011 in France). But while it’s fair to say that The Women on the 6th Floor is formulaic and unadventurous cinema, it’s certainly not without its pleasures, mostly thanks to delightful performances from leading man Fabrice Luchini (Potiche) and former Almodovar muse Carmen Maura.
Luchini plays Jean-Louis, a stockbroker who lives a comfortable, predictable life with his socialite wife Suzanne (a perfectly uptight Sandrine Kilberlain). When their long-serving maid abruptly resigns, Suzanne takes her bourgeois friends’ advice and finds a replacement from amongst the work-hungry Spanish community, many of whom take up residence in the disheveled top floor of the couple’s apartment block. The new maid, Maria (Natalia Verbeke), has an immediate impact on their home, awakening Jean-Louis’ conscience to her friends’ and relatives’ poor living conditions, as well as stirring his heart to her not inconsiderable charms.
Philippe Le Guay’s film works best as a simple comedy of culture-clash: a scene of Jean-Louis sitting down to paella with the maids draws effortless humour from placing the awkwardly reserved Luchini alongside the effusive Spanish women (amongst them the aforementioned Maura as well as another Almodovar regular, Lola Dueñas). It's just a shame that Le Guay misjudges the film's final 10 minutes, shifting into a romantic drama that feels tacked-on and sits uncomfortably with the preceding 90 minutes of frothy comedy.
Selected release from Fri 6 Jul.