The story of a middle-aged man who trades in his wife for a younger, more exotic model is a cliché of the first order. So my expectations of The Women on the 6th Floor – or, Les Femmes du 6e Étage, in its original French – weren’t high.
However, Philippe Le Guay’s 2010 film is surprising charming. I watched it on DVD this week.
Part of its appeal for me, I must admit, is that fact that it is set in 1960s Paris. I am a big fan of the period – and of the emerging yé-yé music scene. (I run a website called Ready Steady Girls!, which is dedicated to European female singers of the period.)
However, the film has a stronger draw than just that. Fabrice Luchini, in the lead role of Jean-Louis Joubert, is a well-rounded character: an imperfect stockbroker. The highpoint of each morning, for him, is to have a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg.
He is married to the equally imperfect Suzanne, a buttoned-up socialite, and the pair lead fairly separate lives.
Things change when she hires a young Spanish maid, Maria. When Aubert has to go up to her living quarters in the eaves, he discovers a world full of her fellow countrywomen. Among the cast are Pedro Almodóvar regulars Carmen Maura and Lola Dueñas.
The film manages to show us how immigrants are treated but without preaching. And just as we begin to be seduced by the charms of its characters, Aubert falls for Maria.
“The film manages to show us how immigrants are treated but without preaching.”
In other hands, the film could easily have slipped into sleaze. Though the ending could hardly be deemed unpredictable, the characters and quality of the acting keep it watchable.
The collision of cultures is a clash, not a crash.