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Women on the 6th Floor

‘Women on the 6th Floor’ needs a reality check

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / October 14, 2011

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There are two ways to look at “The Women on the 6th Floor,’’ a new film from France’s Philippe le Guay. To some audiences, it will seem a charming, life-affirming fable about a stodgy businessman in 1960s Paris who reconnects with his joy by getting to know the Spanish maids upstairs. To others, it will play like Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s idea of a romantic comedy.

Sorry, but I incline to the latter view, if only because the script by le Guay and Jérôme Tonnerre is so profoundly clueless about the power imbalance between aging white bosses and their earthy help. The film’s hero, a stockbroker named Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini), is a mild-mannered sort who has made it into his 50s without realizing the maids who live on the top floor of his apartment building have it rough.

The scales fall from his eyes when the latest arrival from Galicia is hired to clean his house. “The Women on the 6th Floor’’ invites immediate comparisons between the wise, lissome Maria (Natalia Verbeke, a brainy stunner) and Jean-Louis’s chic stick of a wife, Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain), who’s forever dashing neurotically off to her latest pedicure. Smitten, the stockbroker ventures upstairs for the first time in years and involves himself in the lives of the women who live there. Soon he’s eating paella and unclogging their toilet and advising them on investments - in short, Jean-Louis has his groove back and even his wife begins to thaw under the strains of Spanish guitar floating down the back stairs.

“The Women on the 6th Floor’’ has a few tritely amusing things to say about the ways we box our lives in with routine, and it’s not unaware of its hero’s naivete. The one communist among the maids, a furious chain-smoker named Carmen (Lola Dueñas), insists that bosses can never fraternize with the exploited workers. But even she eventually caves in to the film’s rosy, toothless view of human nature.

If only things worked this way. That’s one of the reasons we go to the movies, actually. But they don’t, especially when sex and money enter the equation. “Women’’ makes sure we get a glimpse of Maria in the bath, and while the maid has a secret that ultimately complicates her relationship with Jean-Louis, it doesn’t preclude his fantasies coming true at one point. “The Women on the 6th Floor’’ is delicate and sensitive and utter bollocks - a bourgeois wet dream made to soothe the souls and stir the loins of powerful men in midlife crisis. But some of us wish we could see this movie told from the maids’ point of view.

Ty Burr can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.


Directed by: Philippe le Guay

Written by: le Guay and Jérôme Tonnerre

Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Natalia Verbeke, Sandrine Kiberlain, Carmen Maura

At: Coolidge Corner

Running time: 103 minutes

Unrated (as PG-13: discreet nudity, sexuality)

In French and Spanish, with subtitles

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