In the Picture
The Women on the 6th Floor
Directed by Philippe Le Guay
This is a particularly charming and beguiling film set in Paris in 1962. There is a fine light touch throughout this comedy which draws the viewer into the lives of the 'upstairs/downstairs' characters who are all so carefully drawn. Cinema's comedic fascination with the Parisian bourgeoisie is irresistibly played out in The Women on the 6th Floor. But the austerity of the middle class is wonderfully contrasted with the 'joie de vivre' of the upstairs Spanish maids who prop up the lives of their employers. The film is set against the backdrop of Franco's Spain when many itinerant workers fled to France, and the story does present some social commentary on migrant maids during this period, but this issue is not over-emphasised.
This is the third movie from director and co-writer Philippe Le Guay, and it proved to be a huge comedy hit in France.
Wealthy stockbroker Jean-Louis (Fabrico Luchini) leads a fairly bored and boring life with his brittle socialite wife Suzanne (Sandrine Kibertain) in the apartment building where he has lived his entire life. The pedantic Jean-Louis must begin each day with a perfectly cooked boiled egg, and when his long-time frustrated and world weary maid quits, the apartment is in chaos until a young Spanish maid is engaged.
Maria (Natalia Verbeke) rallies the support of the other maids living on the sixth floor, and not only does she put the apartment back in order but she also enchants the charming and kindly stockbroker who becomes increasingly drawn into the lives of the Spaniards living upstairs; and when you add a serve of paella, with some red wine and spirited Spanish singing and dancing, slowly the stockbroker discovers a new independence and a new love.
There is a lot to like in this very easy-to-watch French film. It is a fascinating study of manners, but it's also a romantic film about an odd couple who both inspire each other to live more fulfilling lives. It is interesting that, unlike most 'upstairs/downstairs' scenarios, the servants live above their employers, and this figures strongly as the maids are better and more vital people than their masters below.
The casting is superb. The popular comedy star Luchini is perfect as the breaking out stockbroker, and Sandrine Kiberlain is both brilliant and infuriating as his fashionable wife determined to fit into the wonderfully shallow social circle of the day. But it is the vitality and comraderie of the maids that makes this film so entertaining and heart warming.
The Women on the 6th Floor will screen at the Star Court Theatre in Lismore this Friday, January 27, at 7pm; and this Sunday, January 29, at 5.15pm.