An utterly insubstantial but warmly amusing affair, this charming French comedy is based on the perennial idea that the upper class have much to learn from the nobly grubby proletariat - a notion that the film wastes no great effort in interrogating.
Luchini plays Jean-Louis Joubert, a desiccated, henpecked Paris sharebroker who inhabits the massive apartment of fading glory that has been in this family for generations. When his wife Suzanne (Kiberlain) announces her intention to redecorate the place to her taste, the family's loyal maid quits in high dudgeon at the betrayal of the traditional values she is dedicated to upholding.
Her replacement is a pretty young Spanish woman, Maria (Verbeke), with links to a small colony of Spanish maids who rent cramped lodgings on the top floor of the Jouberts' building.
The screenplay (co-written by veteran Jerome Tonnere, who penned the superb Intimate Strangers for Patrice Leconte 10 years ago) avoids the cliche of Jean-Louis falling for his maid: he falls, instead, for all the maids - becoming enamoured of their culture, food and company. Downstairs heads upstairs with gently humorous results.
To get the full effect of the comedy, it helps to understand French and Spanish - or at least to be able to detect the difference between the two languages when they are spoken. So much of the film's considerable wit resides in the distinction.
But it's unself-consciously good fun anyway - a romantic shaggy dog story is probably a fair way to describe it - and evokes its time and place (it's 1962 and Franco is still in power) with precision. It's a good example of a genre the French do very well.
Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Sandrine Kiberlain, Natalia Verbeke, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas
Director: Philippe Le Guay
Running time: 104 mins
Rating: PG (nudity, coarse language). In French with English subtitles
Verdict: Gently humorous
Check out the trailer for The Women on the 6th Floor:
-TimeOutBy Peter Calder Email Peter