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The Women on the Sixth Floor

A French comedy of manners offers wry smiles and a lesson or two

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Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini) lives an exemplary life for a Parisian stockbroker, circa 1962. He lives in a fine home, goes to his dull job, and has a well-groomed wife (Sandrine Kiberlain) who lunches. Then, the family's longtime maid leaves, and the household gambles on new sort of domestic, a young Spanish immigrant named Maria (Natalia Verbeke). 

Jean-Louis is taken with the lively Maria, and through her, he discovers a separate and unequal world literally above his head. Maria, and the Spanish maids who work for the building's other tenants, all live on the sixth floor, where their substandard living conditions are ignored. First, Jean-Louis helps out of decency, but as he continues to socialize with the women, he finds his world view broadening, his prejudices and stuffiness slipping away.

Philippe Le Guay's gentle comedy of manners is full of contrivance, but with its heart in the right place, and its low-key but winning performances, it hard not to succumb. (Don't think too hard about it, or you may start muttering about the film's own myopia about how uptight white people just need a good dose of ethnic song-and-dance to uncover their humanity.) You likely already know the film's lessons about dignity and kindness transcending prejudice and class, but a refresher never hurts. And it's not as if French society, or ours, doesn't continue to be roiled with stereotypes and ugliness about immigrant workers. In French and Spanish, with subtitles. Starts Fri., Dec. 9. Manor

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