The women on the sixth floor in the French period film The Women On The 6th Floor are Spanish maids, and while they’re trapped doing menial household tasks, they’re also earthy and fun, with a zest for life unfamiliar to their starchy, wealthy Parisian employers who inhabit the fancy apartments in the lower floors. One of those, stockbroker and building owner Fabrice Luchini, discovers their world after his wife (Sandrine Kiberlain) hires a new housekeeper—the pretty Natalia Verbeke, who proves an irresistible lure away from the conservative existence where he’s been stuck.
This comedy from writer-director Philippe Le Guay is really a testament to how much more charming things sound in French, given how much its setup parallels that of James L. Brooks’ clunkier 2004 Spanglish, complete with a blonde harpy of a spouse. The Women On The 6th Floor is eased by its 1960s setting—given the norms of the time, Luchini is being revolutionary even by demonstrating interest in the lives of the help, paying attention to the political situation in their home country, and sending someone to fix their broken toilet. His coworkers and family look at him with bewilderment as he starts drinking Spanish wines, attending mass with the maids, and letting them use his telephone to call home. Soon, Kiberlain notices the positive change in her husband and assumes he’s having an affair, suspecting a wealthy widow investor instead of something closer to home.
The Women On The 6th Floor’s best moments are when Luchini takes up residence with the maids and relishes the freedom of a bachelor’s existence for the first time in his life, listening to records and devouring a sandwich. But Le Guay’s film too often condescends to the subjects it means to celebrate—there’s never a question that the maids will welcome Luchini’s presence, that they’ll be grateful for his charity, that what could just as easily be interpreted as creepy, invasive behavior will come across as adorable. There’s no comeuppance when Luchini misinterprets a hired waiter’s flirtations with Verbeke and jealously scolds her, because she has no option other than to submit to his whims. These elements sour this would-be feel-good fairy tale, which never confronts the uncomfortable power dynamics underlying its arc of self-discovery, and never digs deeper than its broad generalizations about being poor but happy vs. rich but soulless.