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:: The Housekeeper (Un Femme De Menage)

A man in his fifties finds his life falling apart after his wife leaves him. His apartment is a complete mess, so he places an ad for a cleaner in his local cafe. A young attractive lass responds to his ad and not long after working for him, asks if she could move in as her relationship with her boyfriend is over and she has nowhere to go. He obliges, even giving her his bedroom while he takes the couch. French films are notoriously known for being preposterous, The Housekeeper, requires us to stretch our imagination but it is not the cliched older-man/ingenue fantasy, rather it is a character study of loneliness and intimacy.

Jacques, a sound engineer, (Jean-Pierre Bacri) reads Dostovesky, listens to jazz and classical music while Laura (Emilie Dequenne) reads People magazine, listens to techno at full blast and indulges in reality television. We expect them to hit the sack together but under Claude Berri’s painterly direction, we are allowed to get closer to the characters as their employer-employee relationship is given time to develop. It is only when loneliness becomes too much to bear that Jacques and Laura capitulate. Laura develops feelings for Jacques, and his life is further complicated by an unexpected visit of his estranged wife, Constance (Catherine Breillat), prompting him to take a vacation on the coast. Laura cajoles Jacques into taking her, and he figures she might be able to put some distance between himself and his pain.

Dequenne who played the title role in Rosetta, is a natural as the carefree and spontaneous Laura against Bacri’s world-weary, reserved and sensitive Jacques. Their holiday at Ralph’s rustic country cottage, Jacques’ friend, crystallises their relationship as lovers but the differences in age and preferences are all too apparent. This is interesting because the film does not dwell on the age-gap and the class distinctions between Jacques and Laura, rather it is the honesty of the characters that makes the audience accept their romance for what it is. Jacques allows himself to be deceived by the illusion of his new romance, perhaps because he wants to or has no other choice.

As expected, the illusion is brought to an end. Sitting on the beach between Laura and the mother of Laura’s young new boyfriend, Jacques ponders on the latest turn of events and the choices he made. The pained and wry look on his face marks that acceptance. Berri’s ambiguous ending completes this bittersweet romantic comedy.