Carry on up the stairs

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

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?

TheWomen 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.

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