The Housekeeper

Director: Claude Berri

A well-to-do man and his housekeeper. In America, it’s played for laughs with the underrated yet admittedly schmaltz filled Spanglish but in France, the combination of those individuals forms a dramatic comedy of character and emotion. Veteran character actor Jean-Pierre Bacri who viewers may remember from his excellent turns in wife Agnes Jaoui’s Look at Me and The Taste of Others plays the lonely Jacques, a musical sound engineer who struggles to fill his days after his wife leaves him for another man. When he realizes that his Parisian apartment is filled with dirt and debris, he impulsively calls on an ad to hire a housekeeper and meets the twenty year old woman the next day at a cafĂ©. Laura (Cannes Film Festival award winning actress Emilie Dequenne of Rosetta) arrives looking a bit disheveled and unkempt with dirt on her face from plants she tells Jacques and two tone hair that’s in what most women will agree is that annoying state between highlights or dye when the roots are growing out at a fast pace and the ends appear to be an entirely different color. Without checking references and after her admission that this will be her first job as a housekeeper which she assumes will make her happy as she prefers cleaning the homes of others instead of her own, Jacques hires Laura and then proceeds to call and check on her during her next visits which go much longer than the few hours he was expecting since she prefers using a broom to a more efficient vacuum in her work. Soon the two seem drawn to each other mostly out of curiosity and proximity that is heightened when she confesses that she’s splitting from her boyfriend and needs additional hours or recommendations to other clients so that she can earn enough to move out on her own. Without a place to stay, Jacques lets her move in with him temporarily but their “just a few days” arrangement takes on a more intimate level when she begins not only keeping house but taking care of the middle aged man with home cooked meals, ironing and soon the two (perhaps again out of boredom and the fact that they’re near one another) begin sleeping together. Their May/December relationship is matter-of-factly discussed by the two and deemed to be fueled solely from desire rather than real affection but that changes when Jacques decides to flee city life or more accurately a coffee date with his ex by vacationing in the country in Brittany at his eccentric chicken obsessed friend Ralph’s place. After tearful pleading, Laura comes along and promises to cut off her dye-addled hair and the two unlikely lovers are thrust into familiar coupledom and their age and personality differences begin to become increasingly apparent. Based on the book by Christian Oster, writer/director Claude Berri’s succinct adaptation clocks in at just under ninety minutes and while the ending does feel like it’s a bit rushed and audiences used to our American finales will find it vague, the film is less about plot than about revealing the insecurities and desires of our fascinating lead characters who seem refreshingly like real people one may meet grocery shopping rather than infallible larger-than-life individuals usually offered up in cinema. The quietly entertaining film is available for rental and as part of Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature.