In 1960s Paris, a conservative couple's lives are turned upside down by a group of Spanish maids that live in the same building.In 1960s Paris, a conservative couple's lives are turned upside down by a group of Spanish maids that live in the same building.In 1960s Paris, a conservative couple's lives are turned upside down by a group of Spanish maids that live in the same building.
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.
- May 25, 2011