The Women on the Sixth Floor: Friendship Across the Class Line in '60s France

The pleasing sounds of Carmen Maura's whispery Castilian lisp open this 1962-set film about the friendship between a Parisian captain of industry and a group of Spanish maids. But all the words that follow assault the ear in this unnecessary rehashing of the earthy virtues of low-paid laborers versus the stiffness of the bourgeoisie. Third-generation stockbroker Jean-Louis (a straining Fabrice Luchini)—husband of brittle, insecure provincial Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain, ennobling an impossible role) and father of two boarding-school brats—suddenly transforms into an altruist, concerned with the inferior plumbing and other hardships endured by the half-dozen Spanish domestics, refugees from Franco's regime, who live above him. Among the sextet is recent arrival María (Natalia Verbeke), who stirs Jean-Louis, her new employer, with both her stories of working 15 hours a day in a tobacco factory as a teenager, and her ass, glimpsed in the shower. Freed from French fussiness, Jean-Louis loses himself in Iberian pleasures: paella, Malaga, coplas. "Those up there are alive; down here we're dead," Suzanne remarks to two ladies-who-lunch as her husband and his pals dance the flamenco. Director Philippe Le Guay, who co-wrote the script with Jérôme Tonnerre, has given us a new stock character: the Magical Ibero.

 
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