The Women on the 6th Floor / Les Femmes du 6ème Étage

Fri, Jul 13, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Philippe le Guay. Starring Fabrice Luchini, Natalia Verbeke, Sandrine Kiberlain Club, IFI, Dublin, 106 min

MONSIEUR JOUBERT (Fabrice Luchini) is a middle-aged stockbroker in the firm grip of male menopause. The cause of his hormonal delirium is saucy new Spanish maid Maria (Natalie Verbeke). Joubert’s newfound interest in the cleaners takes him upstairs, where the Spanish maids live in cramped conditions and share a blocked loo.

Slowly but surely our hero makes an effort to help the help. He calls a plumber; he learns basic Spanish phrases; he memorises all their names. Will it be enough to catch Maria’s eye? And what will Madame Joubert (Sandrine Kiberlain) have to say about it?

The Women on the 6th Floor is a Parisian class comedy set in the early 1960s. So why does the film’s grasp of class and gender divisions belong in the Bronze Age?

This unholy alliance of the “cheeky” upstairs-downstairs politics of Carry on at Your Convenience and the unsophisticated gender divisions of The Flintstones plays like Potiche without the musical numbers, like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie with dinner and cake. The film’s patronising “idealised” depiction of Spaniards, Catholicism, women, politics and the working classes would have been risible in the 1960s; five decades later its eye-watering.

The condescension isn’t just for the lower orders: the lady of the house is as indolent as she is dull. Madame Joubert’s appointments – dressmaker, charity function, dinner party – are invariably vacuous. Her friends are invariably frightful. She exists, mostly, as a punchline, a Gallic variation on “Take my wife . . . please”. It requires Kiberlain to breathe some humanity into a thankless part. Sixth Floor’s cast are maddeningly charming even when the screenplay is not.

The unreconstructed nature of the comedy ensures that the jokes and even the shots are awfully familiar. But Jorge Arriagada’s insistent, whimsical score – replete with Pop Goes the Weasel loops and elevator-worthy Spanish guitar – nags and tugs at us to think frivolous and overlook the tiredness of the material.

And we’re still not buying.