THE WOMEN ON THE 6TH FLOOR (Les femmes du 6ème étage) is a delightful bit of French pastiche that entertains while it also provides insight into several problems - immigration, class distinction, rich controlling poor, and the polar extremes of between the wealth and the working class. Fortunately the story as written by Jérôme Tonnerre and writer/director Philippe Le Guay takes place in the 1960s, offering the audience to glance back at period when social reforms were in the gestational phase and in doing so the film allows the comedy to reign - a fact that makes the reality eventually more poignant.
The story takes place in Paris in 1963 in an elegant neighborhood where Jean-Louis Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) is a serious but uptight stockbroker, married to Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain), a starchy class-conscious woman and father of two arrogant teenage boys, (Camille Gigot and Jean-Charles Deval) currently in a boarding school. Jean-Louis lives a steady yet boring life while Suanne busies herself with luncheon appointments, hair appointments, charities, etc. Jean-Louis' mother had been living with the Jouberts until her recent death and now Suzanne forces Jean-Louis to move all of the deceased woman's things to the attic on the 6th floor, an act that infuriates the longtime French maid Germaine (Michèle Gleizer) who leaves the household in disgust. Naturally everything deteriorates an Suzanne must find a new maid. She encounters Maria (Natalia Verbeke) recently immigrated from Spain, offers her a trial employment, and Maria, who becomes friends with the group of maids who live in the disgusting squalor of the 6th floor of the building: naturally these Spanish maids bond and help Maria bring the Joubert household to a state of perfection. Jean-Lois is thrilled with the new maid and discovers the other maids, hears their problems with the sewer and other poor conditions, and sets out to befriend these wonderful ladies who are living in his building : the redoubtable Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Berta Ojea, Nuria Solé, and Concha Galán. These lovely and deeply appreciative lively Spanish maids help Jean-Louis to become open to a new civilization and a new approach of life. In their company - and especially in the company of beautiful Maria - Jean-Louis will gradually become another man, a better man.
The acting is first rate, the subplots embroider the main story with fine finesse, and the sense of the transformation of one wealthy but emotionally vapid man into the loving charmer he becomes makes for a very fine comedy. The ending (three years later) is a bit vapid and cheapens the story quality, but by that time the audience is so entranced with this new vision of camaraderie that it matters little. This is a refreshing, well made, exceptionally entertaining film that boast a particularly fine cast of ensemble actors. In French and Spanish with English subtitles. Grady Harp, March 12