Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Le Guay's WOMEN ON THE 6TH FLOOR, another smart/art crowd-pleaser, opens

First shown in New York during this past year's Rendez-vous With French Cinema at the FSLC, Philippe Le Guay's delicious and often surprising THE WOMEN ON THE 6TH FLOOR is yet another in the recent crop of excellent French crowd-pleasers (The Names of Love, The Hedgehog, My Afternoons With Margueritte) to open in the U.S.) In some ways, in fact, it's the best of them.

Taking place in the Paris of the 1960s, when, according to this film, Spanish maids were relishing the opportunity to get away from the Franco regime and make some money in France, the movie posits a perfect-ly ordinary seeming situation in which a haute bourgeois husband gets involved in the lives of these maids, with results that are, by turns, delightful, funny and moving. As co-writer (with Jérôme Tonnerre) and director, M. Le Guay (shown at left) has set up and then executed his sweet tale with effortless assurance, which makes each turn of events appear to work quite believably and often beautifully.

Further, he has cast in his film's leading roles two of France's finest actors, one of which is giving a just-about-perfect performance -- maybe his best ever (which is saying something). That actor is Fabrice Luchini, most recently seen as the nasty husband in Potiche, and of late in The Girl from Monaco, Paris and Molière). M. Luchini takes this plum role and turns it into a journey of discovery that pulls us along with his chararcter, as he learns and grows.

As his less fortunate wife, Sandrine Kiberlain (of Mademoiselle Chambon and Après Vous) is wonderful, too. To watch her character as she tries to comes to terms, generally unsuccessfully, with growth and change is to witness a great actress at the height of her powers, able to do so much with such subtlety. She plays a sad, circumscribed woman so well that we feel for her, even as we find it difficult to abide her.

The most important of the Spanish maids is played by the versatile and still-being-discovered actress Natalia Verbeke (above), who may have the most difficult job -- turning her character from a cliché into a flesh-and-blood specimen with her own problems and life to live. Ms Verbeke comes through just fine. Among the other maids, the great Spanish actress, Carmen Maura, shines in a small supporting role.

In its sweet, quiet manner the film tackles thorny problems of class distinctions, snobbery, xenophobia and more. But it never preaches, only entertains while provoking a little thought. Its unusual look at the fashions and decor of France in the 1960s should also delight. The film is a must-see for all of these things, but mostly for the treasure that is M. Luchini. What an actor; what a performance!

From Strand Releasing, The Women on the 6th Floor opens this Friday, October 7, at the Paris Theatre in New York City, and at four Laemmle Theater locations in the greater Los Angeles area -- followed by a national roll out.

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