The women on the sixth floor 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘The Women on the Sixth Floor’ Directed by Philippe Le Guay.
Le Guay and Jerome Tonnerre.
Hebrew title: Hanashim b’Koma
Running time: 104 minutes.
In French and
Check with theaters for subtitle information.
A word I
don’t often have the occasion to use when reviewing movies is “charm,” since it
is a quality rarely found on the big screen today. But it comes to mind when I
think of the film The Women on the Sixth Floor
, directed by Philippe Le
Guay. Seeing this gentle, amiable film is a bit like spending a couple of
hours at a dinner party with many charming guests. You will leave refreshed, in
a good mood and with a craving for paella.
The film, which is set in
Paris in the early 1960s, tells the story of the inhabitants of a single
building. There is the Joubert family, an haute-bourgeois clan who lives in the
lavish residence on the bottom floors. The father, Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini),
is a stockbroker, and his wife, Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain), is a skinny blonde
with endearing freckles whose life revolves around finding, buying and enjoying
the best of everything. Their sons are away at boarding school, one of the best
schools most likely.
But all is not well. M. Joubert’s mother has died
recently, and this opens up a power struggle between Suzanne and the family’s
longtime maid from northern France. She quits in a huff, and now Suzanne must
quickly find a replacement or face her husband’s anger if his egg has not been
properly boiled. But help comes from the sixth floor, where the Spanish maids
who work in the building live.
Concepcion (Carmen Maura from Women on the
Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
) suggests her niece Maria (Natalia Verbeke), who
has recently arrived from Spain. Jean-Louis is drawn to the young servant
in a childlike way that doesn’t seem sleazy or lecherous, and she introduces him
to the world of the sixth floor. He is shocked to see their filthy bathrooms and
soon becomes part of the maids’ world, getting to know and appreciate all these
women as he begins to help them fight their battles.
That’s the entire
focus of the film, and in many ways it is an idealized picture. But the
wonderful acting is what is truly captivating here. Fabrice Luchini makes what
could be a dull, clichéd character – the square and self-centered boss – into
something more. He brings out the boy who has never really had a chance to play
from behind the façade of a very dull man. The ensemble cast members are all
good, but the standout among the maids is Natalia Verbeke. This Argentine
actress makes a character that is perhaps a little too beautiful and too good to
be true seem believable, at least during the movie’s running time. You
root for her, and all the maids.
Naturally, there are stock characters.
One woman is an outspoken opponent of the Franco regime and an atheist, while
another is a fervent Catholic. A gorgeous, model type among the maids dates
Frenchmen and hopes to marry one. Concepcion dreams of returning to Spain to
build her own home, while another maid is abused by her husband.
formulaic as the film is at times, at least it doesn’t make the character of
Suzanne, Jean-Louis’s wife, into a shrew. She is an insecure woman who feels
threatened by his interest in the maids, as well as by an attractive
While the film is predictable, it has the flavor of one of
Francois Truffaut’s later comedy-dramas. While many prefer Truffaut’s
earlier more serious films, there is no denying that even his lightest comedies
are peopled by characters that are full of charm and life. It’s hard not to
think of such films as Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses
, for example, when you watch The
Women on the Sixth Floor
, since it is set in just the same period and perhaps
even the same neighborhood. While The Women on the Sixth Floor
lacks the subtext
and quirks that made even Truffaut’s slightest confections memorable, it is a
feel-good film that hasn’t been so dumbed down that you’ll feel cheated at the
end. On the contrary, you’ll want to prolong the experience and head for the
nearest Spanish restaurant.