This cloying culture clash comedy concerns a bourgeois couple letting Spain into their hearts.
"They live above us, and we know nothing about them," declares successful broker Jean-Louis Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) to his wife Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain). The scene takes place in the Jouberts' luxury fifth floor apartment, and as their long-term, middle-aged French maid is replaced with much younger Spanish migrant, Maria (Natalie Verbeke), Jean-Louis starts taking an interest for the first time in the living conditions and lives of the female tenants residing one storey above who are all refugees, whether political or economic, from Franco's Spain.
Indeed, 'Franco-Hispanic' might serve as an apt description of the inter-cultural concerns of this reverse Upstairs, Downstairs, as director and co-writer, Philippe Le Guay, relocates to 1960s Paris the class-race clashes of Spanglish and The Help while also importing those films' schmaltzy superficiality.
If you are looking for incisive social commentary or gripping human drama from the post-war period, look elsewhere. If you are happy to settle for a charmingly acted, if rather empty, romantic comedy of manners, The Women On The 6th Floor offers cloying flavours from both sides of the Pyrenees.
Once Maria starts opening the shutters of the Jouberts' apartment and letting the sunlight in, Jean-Louis' life of dull routine begins to be filled with a new-found Latin passion as he reaches out with increasing enthusiasm to a world beyond the cloistered confines of his family's firm.
It is not the first time that this has happened, for we learn that Suzanne had herself been a country girl before she married Jean-Louis and adopted the dress code and leisured lifestyle expected of the metropolitan haute bourgeoisie, in the process losing the very qualities that attracted Jean-Louis to her in the first place.
With the death of the Joubert matriarch at the film's beginning, it becomes possible for Jean-Louis and Suzanne to do some spring cleaning and at last detach themselves from the stifling cultural conformity and family traditions to which both have become shackled, with Maria – and Jean-Louis' sudden onset of Hispanophilia – serving as catalyst. As their marriage disintegrates, far from unraveling, Jean-Louis and Suzanne in fact revel in the new freedom afforded by each having, for the first time, a room of their own.
Meanwhile, despite the religious, social and economic gulf that exists between Jean-Louis and Maria, the Frenchman is this time willing to meet his beloved more than halfway, moving first upstairs and then over the border, suggesting that their relationship may have better prospects in a rapidly changing world. Probably the massive legacy inherited by this older white knight will also help, even if Maria is hardly a fairytale princess in need of being saved.
And what of the Spanish women living on the sixth floor? Well, Maria's aunt is played by Almodóvar muse Carmen Maura, another is a devout, superstitious Catholic (Berta Ojea), a third is a card-carrying Communist (Lola Dueñas), a fourth a wig-wearing manhunter (Nuria Solé). They like to sing and dance to a guitar, drink malaga, and feast on paella and tortilla. Maria herself used to work in a match factory, while one of her neighbours, in case we missed the point, is actually called Carmen.
Lost amidst all these comfortable clichés of national stereotyping, viewers may end up concluding, along with Jean-Louis: "We know nothing about them."
Women On the Verge of A(nother) Nervous Breakdown?
In this comedy of manners, it's a clash of culture, class and stereotypes.
Que pasa? Rien d'importance.