The premise of The Women on the 6th Floor is so unoriginal it practically creaks.
It’s about an uptight bourgeoise character learning the real meaning of life from the decent, hard-working proletariat.
But the delivery, especially the acting, is so deftly executed that rather than grousing at its predictability you’ll find yourself sighing with pleasure at this soufflé from writer/director Philippe Le Guay.
Fabrice Luchini is Jean-Louis, owner of a brokerage firm who still lives in the apartment building where he was born.
He’s got a brittle blonde wife (Sandrine Kiberlain) who does little save indulge her neuroses, and a couple of spoiled, arrogant sons off at boarding school.
And now that his aged mother has finally died and her grumpy maid retreated to the provincial burg that spawned her, Jean-Louis is in the market for a new domestic.
Help arrives in the person of Maria (Natalia Verbeke), a newcomer to Paris (the year is 1962) who has joined her aunt Concepcion (Almodovar regular Carmen Maura) and a half dozen other Spanish women who live in the attic of Jean-Louis’ building. These guest workers spend their days cooking and cleaning for well-to-do French families.
Women on the 6th Floor is about how the buttoned-down, emotionally neutered Jean-Louis discovers this upstairs world.
His first visit to the garret is to store some of his late mother’s things. When he realizes these women have no hot water and a malfunctioning toilet, he hires a plumber to fix things toot sweet. Before long the women are cooking for him and getting him drunk.
The Missus, meanwhile, suspects he’s having an affair and throws him out of their apartment — which is just fine with Jean-Louis. He moves upstairs to a tiny room where his presence alternately amuses and irritates the ladies.
And the more he sees of Maria, the more he is sure that this young woman is just the thing to revive his appetite for life.
Like I said, not much new here.
But Luchini’s transformation from owlish numbers cruncher to bon vivant is funny and sweet, and Verbeke’s Maria exudes a quiet eroticism that will have the entire movie audience contemplating a Spanish holiday.
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About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.