Life usually follows an A to B to C kind of track… but that doesn’t make for very good or interesting storytelling, does it?  Sometimes, the best and worst of humanity is seen when people are pushed completely outside of their comfort zones; some take to it with gusto, others freak out and go insane.  Happily enough, the folks in The Women on the 6th Floor mostly fall into the former category, with those landing in the latter category coming away relatively unscathed.  The Women on the 6th Floor is a very likable and sweet film that may fall into clichés, but the lighthearted air with which director Philippe le Guay treats this film makes it enjoyable nonetheless.

Breezy and carefree, le Guay gives this film no undue heaviness, choosing instead to focus on the wonderful friendships between employers and employees.  Set in the 1960s, The Women on the 6th Floor lets us look in on the stifling, passionless life of Jean-Louis Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) as he’s pressured by his young socialite wife (Suzanne, played by Sandrine Kiberlain) to fire his maid of 20 years.  Everything about Jean-Louis is stuck in a rut – his married life, his relationships at work, and even his breakfast choice, which must adhere to the same principles and routines that his father followed.  He has nothing he has ever called truly his own, and it looks like he’s never actually lived a day in his life.

Suzanne must be seen as a mover and shaker, so she heeds advice from her fellow socialites: she hires a hardworking Spanish immigrant maid.  The reasons?  They’ll work for little money and time off, mostly Sunday mornings when they go to church.  The disconnect between the Joubert’s world and the world of the maid collective that lives upstairs from them is bridged by Maria (Natalia Verbeke), a young, eager woman who instantly pleases the Jouberts and finds a place in their home.  Not only does she endear herself to Suzanne, but she also manages to awaken something within Jean-Louis – an understanding, a desire, his spirit – that makes him change every aspect of his life.

I completely liked The Women on the 6th Floor, not for any other reason than its simplicity.  The script never gets convoluted and the actors define their characters well.  It’s almost as if le Guay dropped his cameras in on the inhabitants of an apartment building and said “just act normally”.  Natural drama never comes to a frenzied, overwrought pitch, which I immediately appreciated.  Also, the performances of all involved give this movie such a good vibe, like you’re the fly on the wall at a family get-together.  As this film centers around a small subset of immigrants in France, their tightness and support of each other gives this film a tactile, grounding sense of community, and each actor does their best to foster that for not just themselves, but the audience as well.

Non-pretentious, well-acted, heartwarming and immersive, The Women on the 6th Floor is an enjoyable treat and a welcome alternative to this weekend’s multiplex fare.  It is always welcome to see human interaction at its best, and this movie is a terrific example of it.  These “sense awakening” movies are always so much fun for me – from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest to Brazil to Fight Club, there’s something wonderful to watch about a person who changes their life because of someone else’s unexpected inspiration.  The Women on the 6th Floor is no exception to this – especially set in a simpler time, when modern distractions (the internet, television, etc.) had no place in life and people were actually forced to interact with each other on a one-on-one basis.  We see people’s true characters come to the fore, and we see what really drives each person.  For some, it’s a sense of family.  To others, it’s social status.  And for some, it’s just to belong.

The Women on the 6th Floor opens today at the West End Cinemas.

FINAL GRADE:  A

Reel Film News Movie Review by Eddie Pasa

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