Lowdown: Spanish maids bring an atmosphere to an otherwise cold French dwelling.
As a person with much affection towards France, The Women on the 6th Floor (or Les femmes du 6ème étage as per its original French title) is a bit of a surprise. It’s a film where the traditional French culture is portrayed in a very English / Jane Austen like way, and where it takes some Spanish rays of light to liven things up.
Events take place at a Parisian house during the sixties. On the lower floors we have the masters of the house, Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini) and his wife Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain). They’re living fifty years ago, but to all intents and purposes they look and feel like the 18th century English estate owners we got so used to watching on English dramas: the husband takes care of the finances, the wife is busy doing all sorts of meaningless things with her time, and the two of them acting like a financial unit more than a loving couple. Up on the 6th floor the story is different: that area is populated by poor Spanish maids venturing away from their families and the Franco regime to earn a living. They may be financially poor, but they have their faith and their camaraderie to hold them together in warmth.
Against this background we have our plot develop as a new maid, Maria (Natalia Verbeke) arrives from Spain just as our French family gets rid of its old timer of a French maid under not so nice circumstances. Maria steps in, asks for much more than the French maid did, but delivers; the house is clean and even the breakfast eggs are boiled to Jean-Louis’ exact traditional specifications. Maria brings more than boiled eggs with her, though; she brings Spanish character. The initially reluctant Jean-Louis gradually opens up to this warmth, exposes himself to Spanish culture, and drives The Women on the 6th Floor towards a very predictable yet feel goody type of a romantic comedy movie we have seen plenty of times before.
The Women on the 6th Floor turns out to be a charming comedy dealing with a clash of cultures; it’s just a coincidence the two happen to be French and Spanish in the film, because it is obvious each of these two roles could be replaced by lots of other cultures and leave the film to still work relatively well. It is well executed if more than a bit naïve, as per the fact Jean-Louis is way too old for Maria; several decades of a gulf is more than enough to breach the reliability factor. Me, I would have liked to see the same film with an elderly woman and a young guy instead. Or am I the naïve one here?
Typical scene: All the Spanish women of the 6th floor help Maria on the first day at her new job to sort the house down and secure her position. Charming yet predictable for a movie such as this.
Overall: Nice is the word with this one. 3 out of 5 stars.