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A man woos his maid in The Women on the 6th Floor
Domestic relations

Pure bourgeois fantasy.
Pure bourgeois fantasy.
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The Women on the 6th Floor is a light French comedy that is pure bourgeois fantasy, but a genial fantasy nevertheless. Charming performances go a long way toward smoothing over the characters' perpetuation of class distinctions and patronizing attitudes.

The film opens in Paris in 1962, in the Joubert apartment. Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini), a stockbroker, was born in the fifth-floor apartment of this building and expects to eventually die there. He will pass it on to his son, as did his father and grandfather before him.

Jean-Louis' elegant but chilly wife, Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain), is in the process of redecorating the apartment following the death of her mother-in-law, and the radical change causes the departure (it's hard to say whether she quits or is fired) of the family's longtime maid Germaine (Michèle Gleizer). Persuaded by her society friends that it's no longer chic to hire French maids, Suzanne hires the recently arrived young Spaniard María (Natalia Verbeke) to cook and clean - tasks the Jouberts are woefully unable to handle on their own.

As soon as the beautiful young maid arrives, the viewer senses exactly where this story is heading: toward a classic upstairs/downstairs affair between the boss and the domestic help. But The Women on the 6th Floor has an unusual twist. Infatuated though he is with María, Jean-Louis' obsession turns toward all things Spanish. A half-dozen Spanish maids, including María, occupy the shabby rooms on the building's sixth floor, and though he has lived there his entire life, Jean-Louis had no idea of their presence. Shortly after discovering them, he pays to get their shared toilet repaired and bestows other kindnesses.

Following a spat with his wife, Jean-Louis moves into this sixth-floor garret and discovers he loves having a room of his own for the first time in his life. Jean-Louis would be considered a real mack daddy were not the circumstances of his situation so sweet. His relationship with the women reeks of paternalism, but it is also infused with true friendship and mutual regard.

Luchini is wonderfully understated as Jean-Louis, while Verbeke's grace and smile are captivating. A coda set in 1965 seals the film's status as a bourgeois fantasy, but Paris' student and worker riots of 1968 are not far away.

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