In a movie about servants, is it possible to take the
masters’ side? Probably not. But that doesn’t make another story about
aristocratic anomie versus proletariat pluck the solution, and that’s exactly
what director Philippe Le Guay has done. Accomplished, well-acted and
sporadically charming, The Women on the 6th Floor is ultimately too predictable and inoffensive to ever make us care.
Jean-Louis Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) is a stockbroker in
1960s Paris. His grandfather was a broker, his father was a broker and one day,
he hopes, his two children will also be brokers. His wife, Suzanne (Sandrine
Kierlain), shops. A long-employed maid runs the house but when she gets in a
fight with Suzanne, her status as “part of the family” is revealed as what we
suspect it to be: a lie. The Jouberts are well-meaning and vaguely
forward-thinking but deferential to society’s rules.
This all changes with María (Natalia Verbeke). A beautiful
young refugee from Franco Spain, she is something of a housekeeping genius:
laundry done daily, sheets folded just so, Jean-Louis’s egg cooked at exactly
three-and-a-half minutes. She also has brilliant timing. Jean-Louis’s comment
about France’s tricky financial situation elicits a deadpan comparison to Spain’s—it’s
hard on business when Franco kills everyone. His compliment on her bathroom
cleaning gets how she prefers doing it here than at home—hers is shared with a
floor of Spanish maids. These are the women of the sixth floor, one above the
Jouberts, and when Jean-Paul finally visits he gives the film its most earnest
and most hackneyed line: “These women are living right over our heads, and we
don’t know the least thing about them.”
What follows is entirely expected and occasionally amusing.
Jean-Louis befriends the maids and scandalizes society. He pulls favor to get
some better housing and helps them escape from de facto slavery. “You can pool
your savings and buy stocks,” he says. “Stock? Like extra ingredients in a
Carmen Maura and Lola Dueñas adroitly play supporting roles
with refreshing energy but by this time the plot has become too staid.
Jean-Louis has started falling in love with María and even that twist uses a
familiar trope. María, it turns out, was rich prior to Franco. The peasant girl
is an aristocrat after all.