COMEDY; 1hr 46min (French and Spanish with subtitles)
STARRING: Fabrice Luchini, Sandrine Kiberlain, Natalia Verbeke
Feeling the heat: Luchini and Verbeke
In an inverted Upstairs, Downstairs, the Spanish maids of director Philippe Le Guay’s cinematic soufflé live above their employers, only in not nearly as ritzy a style. Stockbroker Jean-Louis Jouvert (Luchini) is familiar with their presence — his fine Paris apartment has been home his entire life. Yet the vital, scrappy maids are essentially strangers to him, even though they run their wealthy employers’ households.
So while Jean-Louis’s wife, Suzanne (Kiberlain), spends her days tending to her nails, buying cakes and gossiping with her pampered cronies, her maid is on duty from 6 AM to 11 PM. Such is the class system in 1962. The Jouverts are not cruel people, merely typical, until 6th-floor newcomer María (Verbeke) opens Jean-Louis’s eyes by enfolding him into its warm and giving female network, a transformative experience which leaves him vulnerable and unsettled.
Luchini, OTT in 2010’s Potiche, plays Jean-Louis with a wistful melancholy that blossoms into mischievous glee as the shackles of his old life fall away. It’s an endearing and affirming performance in a sweet-natured, celebratory story: these live-wire señoras would bring out the best in anybody.