The Housekeeper
directed by Claude Berri
(Palm, 2002)

So Jacques' wife has left him for another man and Jacques, forlorn, is living alone in the Paris apartment they both used to share. Housekeeping is too much for Jacques, takes too much time away from his job in a recording studio and the jazz clubs he enjoys frequenting.

Enter Laura, a young woman who's advertising her housekeeping skills in a local cafe. Jacques, meet Laura.

Laura moves in with Jacques, "just for a while," when her boyfriend breaks up with her. Laura and Jacques hop into bed.

So goes The Housekeeper, which manages, in its first half hour, to live up to every stereotype you'd list if I said the phrase "French romantic comedy." And, not to stereotype all middle-aged men, but I'll bet there are a lot of you out there who look at the plot thus far and say, "What? This could happen."

Well, yes. But what saves Une femme de menage is its implicit acknowledgement that this cozy arrangement is not how things will work out in the end.

Director Claude Berri -- who wrote the script based on Christian Oster's book -- handles this with a graceful pace and a gentle touch that helps us understand both halves of this unlikely couple. Because, honestly, it's much too easy to roll our eyes at Jacques and get frustrated with Laura's impetuous neediness.

The performances of Jean-Pierre Bacri as Jacques and Emilie Dequenne as Laura, unhurried and with genuine affection, as well as that of Brigitte Catillon as Claire, an old friend of Jacques' who's having a tough time as a single, middle-aged woman, are what pull The Housekeeper back from shallow midlife crisis.

Berri may be best known in the U.S. for directing Manon of the Spring and Jean de Florette in the 1980s and Germinal, based on Emile Zola's novel, a decade ago. The Housekeeper isn't in their league.

But its last five minutes, which wrap up all that's happened and gently release all the illusions that have held the pair together, are a beautiful, bittersweet ending.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 22 May 2004

Buy it from