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A great review by Robert Beames (coulden't have done it better
myself!!) It has been given the more toner-friendly English language
title of Service Entrance, but comic French drama Les Femmes Du 6eme
Etage translates literally as The Women on the 6th Floor. Shown out of
competition in Berlin, the film was very warmly received thanks in part
to the performances of its sweet and amiable leading man, Fabrice
Luchini, and its beautiful Spanish leading lady played by Natalia
Verbeke. These actors combine with the film's leisurely pacing and
entertaining scenario to ensure that it is a winsome and inoffensive
The film, set in the 1960s, follows a wealthy, middle-aged Parisian stockbroker named Jean-Louis (Luchini) whose long-standing maid quits following a row with his demanding wife Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain). Unable to clean up after themselves, the couple desperately need a new maid. But when Suzanne's high society friends insist French maids aren't the done thing anymore, she enlists the help of Maria (Natalia Verbeke), a feisty, young Spanish immigrant. Jean-Louis forms an instant and obsessive attraction to her and to all things Spanish, soon striking up unlikely friendships with all the Spanish ladies who live in the servant's quarters above his home a place he knows nothing about despite living in the building his entire life. Worlds collide and good-natured japes ensue as he helps each lady adjust to life in France whilst himself inheriting a new found love of life.
I don't think it's necessarily a coincidence that both the more shamelessly enjoyable films I've seen here up to now have been broad comedies about cultural difference and histories of mass immigration with Almanya looking at German-Turks and Service Entrance exploring the relationship, and the comedy that comes of misunderstanding, between the French and their Spanish workforce. Immigration is still a political hot potato issue in these countries, as it remains in much of Europe, and maybe light-hearted comedy is seen as the best way to preach tolerance, reaching a bigger audience than earnest polemic. In mocking bigotry and by setting it in the past (as an old fashioned attitude) perhaps it is felt that people might be less inclined to identify with those views.
In any case both films are funny and have their hearts firmly in the right place. This French offering is gentler and less ballsy than it's Turkish-German counterpart, but no less enjoyable. The character of Jean-Louis is incredibly easy to like, being child-like in his enthusiasm for his new-found interest in Spain. The character of Suzanne is also refreshingly balanced and nuanced. She'd usually be a two-dimensional figure we would be encouraged to dislike in order to make it permissible for Jean-Louis to consider romance with Maria and yet the film doesn't go down that route: she can be annoying and insensitive but she isn't a nasty person. Maria and the other Spanish ladies are also a joy to watch as they interact with one another and fuss over cheerful little Jean-Louis.
Service Entrance is the filmic equivalent of a soufflé and certainly not a tough watch typical of the standard festival fare. Indeed it falls into the dubious realm of the "feel good" movie. But sandwiched, as it is here, between two-hour long Shakespeare adaptations, Bela Tarr movies, Argentinian slow cinema and films about nuclear disasters, it is exactly the kind of film you need to see in order to keep sane. It is difficult to say whether wider criticism in France will be anything like as positive when removed from this context on theatrical release, but here it offered exactly what was needed and nobody appreciated that more than I.
Philippe Le Guay and Fabrice Luchini, two names that go together well,
are more than ever synonymous with good quality comedy. If you want to
have a good time, feel free to see the three films they collaborated
on: "L'année Juliette" (1995), in which Luchini makes his life awfully
complicated by inventing himself a mistress ; "Le coût de la vie"
(2003), where Luchini makes his life ... awfully complicated by being
too tight-fisted ; and coming now "Les femmes du 6e étage" (2010), with
Luchini in yet another funny role in yet another well- written comedy
signed Le Guay.
This time Luchini is Jean-Louis Joubert, a Parisian stockbroker. Like Camille in "L'année Juliette" and Brett in "Le coût de la vie", the character he joyfully slips into is very imperfect and his defects and shortcomings are a sure source of laughter but, unlike in the two former films, Camille will evolve and open up to his true self, making him a more engaging hero than usual. The beginning of the movie illustrates to great effect the imperfect Jean-Louis living his regular but restricted life in his spacious luxury apartment. He is married to a stiff-necked socialite named Suzanne and has two arrogant teenage sons who, being boarders, are currently away from home. The climaxes of his life, besides making money out of thin air, are eating a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg and being bullied by his old Breton maid. But things start changing once Suzanne hires Maria, a charming young Spanish maid. For some reason some day Jean-Louis follows Maria up the stairs to the sixth floor and discovers a "terra incognita", in other words the maid's rooms below the roofs and the strange people who inhabit them, a handful of female Spanish immigrants. Against all odds this reactionary grand bourgeois develops an instant liking for these women and for their civilization. And of course, he will fall for Maria, but not only because she is pretty, mainly because she belongs to the new world he has just discovered.
A feel good movie in a way, "Les femmes du 6e étage" is much more than just that. It is also and none the less a committed film which, although set in the 1960s, denounces evils still plaguing today's society like, for example, the appalling way immigrants are exploited by their employers and ill-thought of by a majority of the natives of their "home" country, the selfishness of tourists who will not know about the political and social situation of the countries where they spend their holidays (1962's Spain can be replaced in the 2000s by Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia and many other countries)... Conversely the film is a call for tolerance and open-mindedness, for listening to one's heart rather than one's interest. But be reassured, this dimension, although crucial, remains underlying. There are no such things as preaching or political slogans, only a fine cocktail of good acting and tender humor. And sincerity. Did you know that for that matter that Philippe Le Guay had a Spanish maid when he was a kid and that his father was a broker just like Jean-Louis? Did you know that the actresses playing the maids are all Spanish and that some of them do not even speak French? That Luchini did not know a word of Spanish before starting the film? All these facts are good points which contribute to a welcome feeling of authenticity that enhances the film.
To come back to Fabrice Luchini, he is at his best in "Les femmes du 6e étage" for two reasons: first because his character is three-dimensional and goes beyond caricature (if Jean-Louis is stiff, haughty and narrow-minded it is because he reproduces the values inculcated in him both by his parents and by his social class, not because he is rotten to the core) ; second because Fabrice shows the necessary restraint quite in keeping with the role. The result is just perfect. And the rest of the cast is on the par with him: Natalia Verbeke, fresh and adorable as Luchini's love interest ; Sandrine Kiberlain, excellent as Luchini's uptight but not so superficial wife ; and the impeccable ensemble of Spanish actresses, including Carmen Maura and Lola Dueñas (two Almodovar fixtures), Berta Ojea, Nuria Solé and Concha Galan, as the servants from Spain. Also to be acclaimed are Annie Mercier as the spiteful janitor and gloomy-faced Philippe du Janerand as Piquer, Luchini's right-hand man.
Intelligent, sensitive and funny, "Les femmes du 6e étage", the third effort of the winning duo Le Guay-Luchini", deserves its success at the box-office and will not disppoint you.
A great movie, with wonderful actress and actor, soft, funny, intelligent and deeper as it seems apparently. If you pay attention the flick will let you think upon many things and, in any case, you will leave the theater in a good and serene mood not only in your mind, but also in your heart. Very refreshing!!! Luchini is excellent (as always) in his wonderful character. He recognize the opportunity to change his life and he seize it on. Today maybe it is hard to imagine that a rich man can show that kind of interest for people of a such different social condition. But in the Sixties sometimes that could happen, the social dehumanization was not so advanced like today, in spite of all the contradictions of those years, which are very well represented. Very good also Kiberlain as his wife. She is perfect in her attitude as snooty new rich. The whole cast of the movie and especially the Spanish women are simply great: they show how a change was urgently requested, at that time... and let us understand, today also!
In the 60's, in Paris, the middle-aged stockbroker Jean-Louis Joubert
(Fabrice Luchini) is an uptight man that lives with his wife snobbish
wife Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain) on the first floor of a building that
belongs to him. Jean-Louis and Suzanne live a boring life and they have
two arrogant sons in a boarding school.
When their maid quits the job, they hire the charming Spanish maid María Gonzalez (María Gonzalez) and Jean-Louis is introduced to a joyful Spanish community of maids on the 6th floor of his building. Jean-Louis learns about the Spanish costumes and improves the lives of the immigrants with minor support in their live condition. He also rekindles his own life with Maria and her friends. But when Maria unexpectedly returns to Spanish, Jean-Louis rethinks his life and values.
"Les Femmes du 6ème Étage" is a delightful romantic comedy based on the fight of classes and cultural differences between the French upper class and the Spanish immigrants in the early 60's in Paris. I loved this film, the cast, the direction, the characters and specially the lovely smile and look of María Gonzalez. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "As Mulheres do 6o Andar" ("The Women of the 6th Floor")
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Two of the best movies of the year have a great ensemble of women
propelling their storyline. Including Carmen Maura in this adds some of
the same vibe we encountered in "Women on the Verge of a Nervous
Breakdown", and it's not accident that both, "Breakdown" and "6th
Floor" are lively, touching, and very enjoyable films. In "6th Floor"
the Spanish maids put up with the demands of the upper middle class of
Paris, serving as maids, working long hours, and just being glad they
can make enough money to eventually reach their dreams.
It's never in doubt they miss their homeland, and through many references we hear they know how to party until late hours, never lose their zest for life, and this becomes the center of main story. A young maid, Maria shows up, to alter the lives of the owner of the building where these women live. After a few days, living conditions change for the better, as the owner discovers there is more to life than investing money.
Infatuation or love soon blooms, and for those jaded members of the audience, many will feel there are ulterior motives to both the owner and his relationship with his maid. Before we reach the ending, we are treated to several minor stories, learn that everyone of these women is a different, complex, and very spirited person, and we get to see a bit of their culture, in direct contrast to the lives of the Parisians.
There is a lot to enjoy in the movie, as we witness the relationships develop, bloom, and change the lives of those involved. We become witnesses to changes, rebirths, what being alive really means. "Women" doesn't really gives new insight about how to live or change our existence, but it entertains us with some material that might be relevant to many, without resorting to vulgarity or clever angles. We see real people deal with matters of the heart, social injustice, and human drama that we can relate to. It's a very good film.
The movie plot about the life of Spanish immigrants in France in the
1960s showing experiences of poor maids as immigrants and adequately
reflecting us how was the life of that time . In 1960s Paris, a
conservative couple's lives are turned upside down by various Spanish
maids . The peculiar marriage called Jean-Louis Joubert (Fabrice
Luchini) and Suzanne Joubert (Sandrine Kiberlain) carry out a different
life , as Jean-Louis is a hard-working executive and Suzanne is a
snobbish wife . The affluent man and the selfish woman live a dull life
and they have two arrogant children in a boarding school . At least
until due to fortuitous events , there appears Maria (Natalia Verbeke)
, the beautiful new maid at the service of Jean-Louis' family, makes
him discover the servants' quarter on the sixth floor of the luxurious
building he owns and lives in . There lives a community (Carmen Maura
as Concepción Ramirez , Lola Dueñas as Berta Ojea as Dolores Carbalan ,
Nuria Solé as Teresa and Concha Galán as Pilar) of likable Spanish
maids , they have said goodbye their families and went abroad . There
take place the problems to adapt into a new life ; but later on , they
discover a new and agreeable existence . The maids will help Jean-Louis
to open to a new culture , introducing him a joyful Spanish group and a
new approach of life . In their help and more precisely in the company
of charming Maria , Jean-Louis to be turned into a good and
philanthropist man .
This interesting film is full of humor , drama , touching scenes and good feeling . It is a simple , dramatic and humorous portrait of a time when the Spanish people had to go other countries in order to encounter a work . This amusing as well as funny picture deals about lives of the immigrants with a minor support in their live condition and including a touching and emotive finale . As in Spain of the 50s and 60s ruled by General Franco there's no job , there's no money , and there's no option for the poor people but to emigrate to a foreign country and attempting to encounter work . As it concerns about the Spanish way of life of a crowd of maids , their habits , costumes ; at the same time they improve the serious but uptight stockbroker who lives a steady yet boring life , being suddenly changed when appear the Spanish maids ; as Jean-Louis will gradually become another man, a better man . Actors are frankly magnificent with a first-rate acting for whole cast . Sensational Fabrice Luchini along with the wife played Sandrine Kinberlain and a gorgeous as well as sympathetic Natalia Verbeke . Special mention to the group of Spanish maids magnificently performed by Carmen Maura , Lola Dueñas , Berta Ojea , among others . Colorful and evocative cinematography by Jean Claude Larrieu . Imaginative as well as sensitive original Music by Jorge Arriagada , Raul Ruiz's usual . It was a success among spectators, as well as a hit smash in the various film festivals it took part in ; as it achieved Prix d'interprétation à Natalia Verbeke au festival Sarlat 2010 .
The motion picture was very well directed by Philippe Le Guay . Philippe Le Guay took inspiration from his own childhood , his father was a stockbroker like Jean-Louis Joubert in the film and he himself had a Spanish maid. This was the number one comedy smash hit from this director . He's a good writer and filmmaker who has directed a few movies , many of them starred by his fetish actor , Fabrice Luchini , such as "Cycling with Moliere" , "The Cost of Living" ¨L'année Juliette¨ and this ¨The Women on the 6th Floor" , his best picture .
Fabrice Lucchini, famous French actor well-known for his flamboyant demeanour, is playing an invisible man in this film, which placed in Paris in the 1960's. He opens up to life while meeting the group of Spaniard maids living above his apartment. His wife, played by Sandrine Kiberlain, disagree with him because he's talking to these people who are not from the same social class. Both Lucchini and Kiberlain are very good in this film. The actress who's playing Maria Gonzalez cast, Natalia Verbeke, is offering a splendid performance. I've never seen her playing before. The end of the movie is quite common and deceiving, but it's doesn't erase the fun we had watching this very niece movie.
This is a pure delight. The director, Philippe Le Guay, has the perfect touch, never too light, never too heavy. And he is supported in this delicate balancing act by a marvellous cast, whose timing, tone and style are all perfectly attuned. The central performance in the film is given by the French comic actor Fabrice Luchini, an intelligent simpleton, a naïve bourgeois who has unexpectedly been let loose on Life. Luchini is a true marvel, a world class talent at understated comedy. He has at times the innocent puzzlement of silent comedian Harry Langdon come over his face, a kind of infantile bewilderment, but he is equally capable of snarling arrogantly as a domineering bourgeois buffoon and demanding that his boiled egg must boil for precisely three and a half minutes. He even admits that if he gets the correctly prepared egg in the morning, the rest of his day is glorious, but if he gets an egg which is too hard, his day is ruined. The task set to his maid is therefore going to determine his every day's mood! Luchini owns a large house in Paris (apparently, from what I could glimpse of a park scene, intended to be within walking distance of the quiet and sleepy Parc Monceau). He has inherited it and a prosperous brokerage and investment management business from his father. The film is set in 1962. Every day he goes to work to advise rich people how to invest their money. One of his clients is a glamorous rich widow, played unexpectedly in a cameo performance by the dazzler Audrey Fleurot from the police series ENGRENAGES (SPIRAL, 2005 onwards). Some wonderful laughs come from this association. Fleurot is reputed to be a man-eater, and Luchini's wife is worried that she will steal him from her, but little does she realize that he has barely noticed Fleurot (if you can imagine anyone not noticing Fleurot, which I cannot). This is a mere side event to the main tale. Much of Luchini's huge 19th century house is rented out to other families, and the maids of all of these haute-bourgeois people including his own live together in squalor in small servants' rooms on the sixth floor, hence the title of the film. Only one maid is of the traditional sort, an elderly Bretonne maid from Britanny, and she departs near the beginning of the film. All the rest are gabbling and gregarious Spanish women, who evidently in the 1960s were flocking to Paris to earn money to send home. They form their own tightly-knit sub-culture, invisible to their employers. Anyone who has been to Hong Kong will be familiar with the myriads of Philippino maids who are strewn all over Central every Sunday chattering away to each other in Tagalog. It is very much the same phenomenon. Luchini is married to the ultimate bourgeoise wife, formerly 'a country girl', who is now ruthlessly climbing the social ladder and, wallowing in spoilt self-pity, 'exhausts' herself every day having lunch with her friends and buying expensive dresses. She is played to perfection by Sandrine Kiberlain, veteran of 48 films, who is so often cast as a wife. Admirers of the classic L'APPARTEMENT (THE APARTMENT, 1996, see my review) will recall her waiting at the airport for her husband at the end of the film, with her wan smile and her freckles. But the main action of this film concerns the Spanish maids. While their spoilt rich employers below live lives of stultifying boredom and pointlessness, these impoverished maids, when they are not rushing off to mass and crossing themselves devoutly (all but the sullen one who has become an atheist because her parents were murdered in front of her by Franco's men), have tremendous fun, play the guitar, cook paella, dance a bit of flamenco, and live a vivacious life of their own in their rarified micro-climate on the sixth floor. When his Bretonne maid, who had served the family for thirty years, leaves, Luchini and his wife desperately need a replacement. The dishes are piled high in the sink, the lazy Kiberlain does not know how to work a washing-machine, and Luchini is desperate because he does not have a clean shirt left to wear to work. What can these poor suffering spoilt rich people do? A miracle occurs: one of the Spanish women has just had her niece turn up from Spain, a beautiful thirty-something played with inspired vivacity and satirical demeanour by Natalia Verbeke. She is an amazing actress, born in Argentina in 1975, moved to Spain was she was eleven, lived with a bullfighter, and has appeared in many Spanish TV series and films. When she becomes the new maid, a new life opens up for Luchini, and he realizes that he prefers the maids on the sixth floor for company to his own boring wife and his empty life. And he begins to fall for Natalia, which is hardly surprising, as she is so alluring. The film is at once a tasteful satire on the vacuities of the empty lives of the upper middle classes, a hilarious comedy, a sad commentary, a poignant insight into the silent suffering of people without any money, and the shattering clash of cultures which occurs when someone steps out of the one world and into the other. The film is such a joy, and its satire is so affectionate and gentle (which perhaps makes it all the more devastating), that we learn a lot about Life. And Life is in short supply these days. But prepare to laugh yourself silly, while crying sometimes. Those are the best films, aren't they?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
We have of course been here before, many times. Nevertheless this is a feelgoods feelgood movie. Fabrice Luchini is arguably the best actor currently working to take on this kind of role, the slightly uptight, stuffed shirt businessman who discovers before it too late that life is for living. Jack Lemon brought this off brilliantly in Billy Wilder's Avanti and you don't compare actors with Lemon lightly. Natalia Verbeke - a name totally new to me - is also just right as the catalyst who brings out his dormant humanity. Yes, there is an element of sloppy writing - for example, at an early point in the proceedings Luchini tells Verbeke (who he has hired to replace his old maid, who quit in the first reel, triggering the rest of the film) that the building in which he lives with his wife, Sandrine Kimberlain, and two sons, has been owned by his family for generations and he himself was born there yet surely in all that time he would have ventured up to the sixth floor and seen the squalor in which the Spanish women who live there exist. He is rightly horrified when he does so and immediately pays a plumber double his fee to unblock the communal toilet. This was clearly necessary as a plot device for Luchini to reveal his genuine humanity and befriend these Spanish cleaners but something not so unlikely would have been preferable. Nevertheless this is a DELIGHT though I thought that Sandrine Kiberlain - an actress I've long admired - looked slightly unwell, possibly the result of her recent separation from husband Vincent Lindon. Apart from that I can't wait to buy the DVD.
THE WOMEN ON THE 6TH FLOOR (Les femmes du 6ème étage) is a delightful
bit of French pastiche that entertains while it also provides insight
into several problems - immigration, class distinction, rich
controlling poor, and the polar extremes of between the wealth and the
working class. Fortunately the story as written by Jérôme Tonnerre and
writer/director Philippe Le Guay takes place in the 1960s, offering the
audience to glance back at period when social reforms were in the
gestational phase and in doing so the film allows the comedy to reign -
a fact that makes the reality eventually more poignant.
The story takes place in Paris in 1963 in an elegant neighborhood where Jean-Louis Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) is a serious but uptight stockbroker, married to Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain), a starchy class-conscious woman and father of two arrogant teenage boys, (Camille Gigot and Jean-Charles Deval) currently in a boarding school. Jean-Louis lives a steady yet boring life while Suanne busies herself with luncheon appointments, hair appointments, charities, etc. Jean-Louis' mother had been living with the Jouberts until her recent death and now Suzanne forces Jean-Louis to move all of the deceased woman's things to the attic on the 6th floor, an act that infuriates the longtime French maid Germaine (Michèle Gleizer) who leaves the household in disgust. Naturally everything deteriorates an Suzanne must find a new maid. She encounters Maria (Natalia Verbeke) recently immigrated from Spain, offers her a trial employment, and Maria, who becomes friends with the group of maids who live in the disgusting squalor of the 6th floor of the building: naturally these Spanish maids bond and help Maria bring the Joubert household to a state of perfection. Jean-Lois is thrilled with the new maid and discovers the other maids, hears their problems with the sewer and other poor conditions, and sets out to befriend these wonderful ladies who are living in his building : the redoubtable Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Berta Ojea, Nuria Solé, and Concha Galán. These lovely and deeply appreciative lively Spanish maids help Jean- Louis to become open to a new civilization and a new approach of life. In their company - and especially in the company of beautiful Maria - Jean-Louis will gradually become another man, a better man.
The acting is first rate, the subplots embroider the main story with fine finesse, and the sense of the transformation of one wealthy but emotionally vapid man into the loving charmer he becomes makes for a very fine comedy. The ending (three years later) is a bit vapid and cheapens the story quality, but by that time the audience is so entranced with this new vision of camaraderie that it matters little. This is a refreshing, well made, exceptionally entertaining film that boast a particularly fine cast of ensemble actors. In French and Spanish with English subtitles. Grady Harp, March 12
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