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Lots to like about French film

October 07, 2011|By Katherine Tulich
  • Natalia Verbeke as the Spanish maid Maria, who lives upstairs in "The Women on the Sixth Floor." (Photo courtesy of Strand Releasing)
Natalia Verbeke as the Spanish maid Maria, who lives upstairs…

It’s Paris in the 1960s. Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini) lives a pleasant, placid life working for the brokerage firm his father founded, married to a pretty and prim wife, Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain), and living in a comfortable apartment, the same one he has lived in since he was a child. It seems his biggest bother is getting the housekeeper to serve his eggs at just the right soft boil. He’s barely aware of the women who use the stairs behind his back entrance to get to their cramped apartments on the sixth floor.

When their French maid abruptly quits, they hire a young Spanish maid, Maria, played by fresh-faced Natalia Verbeke, who has just moved in with her aunt to the servant’s quarters upstairs. Jean-Louis has no idea that his routine life is about to turn upside down.

“The Women on the 6th Floor” (renamed from its original title “Service Entrance”) was a big hit with French audiences when it was released there earlier this year, and it’s easy to see why. This frothy Gallic version of “Upstairs Downstairs” (although this time the servants are upstairs) is a delight from start to finish.

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Director Philippe Le Guay co-wrote the screenplay from his own childhood memories of the family’s Spanish housemaid. The economic conditions in Spain under the Franco regime were forcing women to migrate north to find work. They were hard working (only needing time off to go to Mass), and fiercely communal. One of the film’s most joyous scenes is when Maria, overwhelmed by the mountain of housework on her first day, enlists her 6th Floor sisterhood to swoop in like maid superheroes to clean up the mess in a flash.

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