The Women on the 6th Floor

By Moira Sullivan
The Spanish maids : Carmen Maura, second from right and Natalia Verberke, far right
The Women on the 6th Floor (Les femmes du 6ème étage, France 2010) was part of this year’s out of competition selection at the Berlin Film Festival and opens in San Francisco this week. Directed by Philippe Le Guay, the film is partly autobiographical inspired by his family’s Spanish maid, Lourdes. In this film on the sixth floor of a stockbroker’s family house live several Spanish maids who serve affluent French households. The setting is Paris in 1982.
Jean-Louis Joubert played by Fabrice Luchini lives a predictable life with his wife Sandra (Sandrine Kiberlain) who has her toenails painted, her dresses fitted and enjoys tea with other French housewives. The maid of the family for 25 years quits but actually is just let go when Joubert’s mother dies, and a young Spanish woman is employed in the household to serve Mrs. Joubert. As might be expected Mr. Joubert is smitten by not only Maria but also all the Spanish maids upstairs. He seems to take a genuine interest in their livelihood, such as having their plumbing fixed, and drives them to mass in the countryside.
The film clearly stakes its claim in revealing the stuffiness of the French upper class and its bourgeois lifestyle. The Joubert kids go to boarding school and there seems little room for the passion of life. The Women on the 6th floor is clearly stereotypical where the Spanish women provide the spice to the French bland diet and for that reason the plot is something that must be endured. One wonders what the director’s real life experience was. 
Several powerful actresses make up the ensemble of Spanish maids:  Spanish actresses Carmen Maura (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Volver), as Conception and Lola Duenas as Carmen and Argentinean actress Natalia Verbeke who plays Maria. The class differences between the servants and the owners are transparent, lacking any real subtleties in this commercial French narrative. Carmen sells papers for workers’ rights in the town square and has to educate Mr Joubert on the atrocities of Franco who murdered her two parents.   
Having one benevolent Frenchman cater to the Spanish women is the major superficiality of the film, especially since Mr. Joubert not only owns the home but also lays real claims to Maria. His sense of entitlement includes moving upstairs with all the maids when his marriage goes sour. It is fatiguing to see Fabrice Luchini once again as an aging middle age man falling for younger women. It is hard to imagine Maria with Mr. Joubert or as the center of attention with the enamored Spanish maids. Still the film had definite charm and nice touches which saves it from the script’s lack of ambition.
© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/26/11 Movie Magazine International