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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

photo caption:
MAID IN PARIS: Jacques (Jeanne-Pierre Bacri) and Laura (Emilie Dequenne)
share an exuberant intimate moment..

end caption.nd of caption


A Melancholy Melodrama From Claude Berri: "The Housekeeper" (Une Femme de Menage)

Review by Kam Williams

Claude Berri has enjoyed an enviable fifty-year career in French cinema, initially as an actor, but later adding writing, producing, and directing to his repertoire. The venerable Oscar-winner (for Le Poulet) is probably best known for his captivating adaptations of Jean de Florette (1986), and its sequel, Manon of the Spring (1987). These French film classics were based on Marcel Pagnol's passion plays about a bitter, gen- eration-spanning feud over water rights fought between two family patriarchs, one a greedy peasant farmer (Yves Montand) from Provence, the other, his transplanted, cosmopolitan neighbor (Gerard Depardieu), an idealistic hunchback who inherited an adjoining tract of land.

The Housekeeper, Berri's latest offering, is a relatively civil affair, a mid-life crisis melodrama based on Une Femme de Menage, a novel by Christian Oster. The alternately tender and tawdry tale trades in such stock themes associated with the genre as coupling, betrayal, uncoupling, and confession. The action is all set against familiar French backdrops featuring characters seemingly steam-pressing their chests with cigarette smoke while conversing at an outdoor cafe or quaffing carafes of wine at a table with a bowl of fruit as a pedestrian passes carrying a shopping bag with a bare baguette sticking out.

Superficially, the storyline reads a little like Lost in Translation, where Bill Murray plays a jaded married man who has a revivifying romantic romp in Japan with an attractive younger woman. Here, at the point of departure, we find Jacques (Jeanne-Pierre Bacri), a self-pitying, fifty-plus Parisian, abandoned by his wife, Constance (Catherine Breillat), and living alone for six months in an increasingly messy flat.

This depressed classical music engineer barely manages to muster up the energy to drag himself to work at his studio daily. Since he obviously needs help with the piles of dirty clothes and dishes growing in his home, he answers an advertisement he spots on a bulletin board from a woman looking for employment as a housekeeper.

He hires the attractive tweny-year-old Laura (Emilie Dequenne) even though she quickly confesses that she has no experience. Something seductively irresistible about this carefree girl ignites a spark inside the soul of this lonely man. Despite their distinctly different tastes in music and other things, the staid Jacques allows the desperate bohemian to move in because her boyfriend has broken up with her.

Not surprisingly, the odd couple soon ends up sharing a bed and a May-November romance blossoms. This set-up is simply the tip of the eventual iceberg of complications which ensue, given Laura's wandering eye, prodigal wife Constance's return after second thoughts, and the revelations waiting to be uncovered when the couple takes an extended holiday at Jacques' best friend's seaside home in scenic Brittany.

Congratulations to the sage Monseiur Berri, ever the meticulous master, for somehow crafting a grimly introspective, yet undeniably light, mood piece onto a preposterous sounding premise that would spell disaster in the hands of almost any other writer/director. The Housekeeper works, whether taken as an absurdist, escapist fantasy, a realistic relationship, or a little of both.

Excellent. Rated R for sexuality, female frontal nudity, and brief profanity.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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