Saturday 20 January 2018

Paris love story weaves a charming fantasy

Paul Whitington

(Club, IFI, 104 minutes)

Director: Philippe Le Guay Stars: Fabrice Luchini, Sandrine Kiberlain, Carmen Maura, Natalia Verbeke


Philippe le Guay's Les Femmes du 6eme Étage is an odd and old-fashioned little film; part boulevard farce and part glossy male fantasy, it has all sorts of dubious undertones and shouldn't really work as a comic drama, but, somehow, it does.

This is partly down to a certain ephemeral sweetness, but mainly to the delicate and thoughtful central performance of Fabrice Luchini.

It's 1962, and he is Jean-Louis Joubert, a dutiful but repressed and possibly depressed stockbroker who lives with his frosty wife Suzanne (the excellent Sandrine Kiberlain) in a palatial Parisian apartment.

Joubert's mother has just died, to Suzanne's evident delight as the old woman was apparently a bitter and bossy crone.

But when Suzanne decides to remodel the old place, Madame's maid resigns in protest, and they have to find a new one.

Enter Maria (Natalia Verbeke), a handsome Spanish girl who quickly proves a godsend. She cooks, cleans and keeps house so perfectly that even the fussy Jouberts cannot find fault.

She lives in a tiny room at the top of the house, along with a noisy flock of Spanish housekeepers, and when Joubert discovers the tough circumstances in which they live, he becomes determined to improve them.

Inevitably, given the story's set up and Verbeke's distracting prettiness, Les Femmes du 6eme Étage inevitably turns into a sort of love story. But at least it's not without a few turns and some imagination.

Its scenario is pure fantasy, and French filmmakers never seem remotely troubled by pairing 60-year-old men with beauties half their age, but Fabrini is a delightful comic actor, and there are some nice turns too from the likes of Carmen Maura.

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